When the state, socio-economic systems and/or local communities do not have the capacities to
prevent, cope with or manage situations of conflict, the worst affected are generally the
poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.
On average, 56 percent of the population in countries affected by conflict live in rural
areas, where livelihoods largely depend on agriculture. Conflict negatively affects almost
every aspect of agriculture and food systems, from production, harvesting, processing and
transport to input supply, financing and marketing. In many countries affected by conflict,
subsistence agriculture is still central to food security for much of the population. In
Iraq, for instance, before the conflict, the Ninewa and Salah al-Din districts produced
almost one-third of the country’s wheat and nearly 40 percent of its barley. An assessment
in February 2016 found that 70-80 percent of corn, wheat and barley cultivations were
damaged or destroyed in Salah al-Din, while in Ninewa 32-68 percent of land normally used
for wheat cultivation was either compromised or destroyed, as was 43-57 percent of the
While most countries have achieved significant 25-year gains in reducing hunger and
undernutrition, progress in the majority of countries affected by conflict has stagnated or
South Sudan provides an illustrative example of conflict’s destructive impact on
agriculture and food systems and how this can combine with other factors, including public
health, to undermine livelihoods and create a downward spiral of increased food insecurity
and malnutrition as conflict intensifies.
Problems of acute food insecurity and malnutrition tend to be magnified where natural hazards
such as droughts and floods compound the consequence of conflicts. The concurrence of
conflict and climate-related natural disasters is likely to increase with climate change, as
climate change not only threatens food insecurity and malnutrition, but can also contribute
to further downward deterioration into conflict, protracted crisis and continued
In some cases the root cause of the conflict is competition over natural resources.
In fact, competition over productive land and water has been identified as a potential
trigger for conflict, as loss of land and livelihood resources, worsening labour conditions
and environmental degradation negatively affect and threaten household and community
livelihoods. Sources estimate that over the past 60 years, 40 percent of civil wars have
been associated with natural resources. Since 2000, some 48 percent of civil conflicts have
taken place in Africa, in contexts where access to rural land is essential to the
livelihoods of many and where land issues have played a significant role in 27 out of 30
Conflict, especially when compounded by climate change, is therefore a key factor explaining
the apparent reversal in the long-term declining trend in global hunger, thereby posing a
major challenge to ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Hunger and all forms of
malnutrition will not end by 2030 unless all the factors that undermine food security and
nutrition are addressed.
Assistance to countries affected by conflict should focus on support for investments in
building resilience and preparedness
The impact of conflict on food systems can be severe, particularly if the economy and
people’s livelihoods rely significantly on agriculture. It undermines resilience and can
force individuals and households to engage in increasingly destructive and irreversible
coping strategies that threaten their future livelihoods, food security and nutrition. Food
insecurity itself can become a trigger for violence and instability, particularly in
contexts marked by pervasive inequalities and fragile institutions. Therefore,
conflict-sensitive and timely interventions aimed at improving food security and nutrition
can contribute to sustaining peace.
Food security, malnutrition and conflicts: country case studies
A humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale: the case of South Sudan
The conflict in South Sudan has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale:
famine was declared in parts of Greater Upper Unity State in February 2017, more than 4.9
million people (over 42 percent of the population) were severely food insecure.
Food access has been hampered by sharp increases in prices, with inflation driven by
shortages, currency devaluation and high transport costs owing to insecurity along major
trading routes. The year-on-year inflation rate peaked at 836 percent in October 2016.
A lack of financial and physical access to food is limiting individual and household
consumption, with real labour incomes and the relative price of livestock falling
dramatically. Meanwhile, violence and insecurity have led to the depletion and loss of
assets such as livestock and key household food sources such as standing crops and grain
In the worst-affected areas, food is being used as a weapon of war, with trade blockades and
security threats leaving people marooned in swamps with no access to food or health care.
Humanitarian access to these areas is limited, as warring factions are intentionally
blocking emergency food, hijacking aid trucks and killing relief workers. A lack of
protection of civilians against the violence has led to 1.9 million internally displaced
persons and more than 1.26 million refugees, who have lost their livelihoods and are
dependent on support for their survival.
Yemen: a protracted crisis threatens nutrition and health
As of March 2017, an estimated 17 million people are experiencing severe food insecurity and
require urgent humanitarian assistance. This represents 60 percent of the entire
population – a 20 percent increase from June 2016 and a 47 percent increase from June 2015.
Chronic child undernutrition (stunting) has been a serious problem for a long time, but
acute undernutrition (wasting) has peaked in the last three years. One of the main channels
of impact on livelihoods and nutrition has been the conflict-induced, economy-wide crisis
that is affecting the entire population.
The nutrition situation has been aggravated by the dramatic breakdown of the health care
system and its infrastructure, combined with an outbreak of cholera and other epidemics that
affected several governorates in 2016 and that is continuing into 2017.
A protracted crisis stretches across borders: the Syrian war
Formerly a vibrant middle-income economy, 85 percent of the population of the Syrian Arab
Republic now live in poverty. In 2016, an estimated 6.7 million people were acutely food
insecure and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, while the prevalence of acute
malnutrition was at increased levels in most areas. Anaemia affects about one-quarter of
adult women and children under the age of five.