Ex-Directeur général  José Graziano da Silva
Article du Directeur –général de la FAO, José Graziano da Silva

The United Nations recently asked for a record 22.5 billion dollars to help it respond in 2018 to a raft of emergencies plaguing communities across the globe. Twenty-two billion is an awful lot of money, and yes, sometimes it may seem like we are pouring that money into a bottomless pit, to little effect.

But to think so is to turn a blind eye to the fact that investments in building a better future can pay off – in fact, they already have.

While not a perfect effort, the global community has made some significant strides toward a brighter tomorrow.

The number of people in extreme poverty was slashed from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million. Millions of lives were saved through investments in reducing child mortality -- since 1990 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been cut in half. And we came within a hair’s breadth of halving the proportion of people on the planet who suffer from chronic hunger.

So why then are we seeing a reversal in some of these gains?

The UN reported last fall, that after steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again affecting 815 million people in 2016 that are chronically hungry -- 38 million more than the previous year.

Furthermore, a new multi-stakeholder report (Global Report on Food Crises 2018) broke the bad news that the most extreme form of hunger, “acute food insecurity”, is also on the rise. Acute food insecurity is hunger so severe it poses an imminent risk to people’s lives. Last year 124 million people found themselves facing acute food insecurity, resulting in the depletion of their assets, the destruction of their livelihoods, acute malnutrition particularly of children and, in the most extreme cases, death. That’s up from 108 million people in 2016 and a massive spike over 80 million in 2015.

Conflict is the main problem behind these negative trends. The vast majority -- 490 million out of 815 million -- of hungry people on the planet live in countries affected by conflict; 122 out of 155 million stunted children in the world do as well. Conflict was why 60 percent of the 124 million people who were at risk of dying from hunger due to acute food insecurity last year found themselves in such dire straits.

The impacts of conflict-induced food insecurity are not just contained within countries where violence occurs. They spill over and have global impacts. In 2016, over 65 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. Entire continents have wrestled, with mixed results at best, with how to receive them.

Now, back to the issue of throwing money, year after year, at problems versus strategically targeting investments to prevent them from snowballing in the first place. Because when it comes to rising levels of hunger, it is clear that no matter what we do, we are running the risk of "one step, forward two steps back” if we continue to fail to address a key driver pushing hunger levels back up: conflict.

This is why the entire United Nations family has resharpened its focus on sustaining peace. Under the leadership of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, each UN agency, fund and programme has been directed to leverage its unique expertise to address the underlying causes of conflict, and to reinforce efforts to prevent violence from breaking out, recurring, and escalating.

The President of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák has also identified peacebuilding and sustaining peace as a key priority and he is convening a High-Level Meeting which kicks-off today to assess efforts undertaken and opportunities to strengthen the United Nations’ work.

Here at FAO we have taken up the Secretary-General’s call, producing a corporate framework to support sustainable peace. Because we know that war and conflict cause hunger. We also know that the inverse is also true: post-conflict countries with high food insecurity are 40 percent more likely to relapse into conflict. Some – though certainly not all – conflict drivers relate to FAO’s mandate, including access to land, water and other natural resources. Inclusive and sustainable development is the best defence against the risks of violent conflict.

This is why, for instance, the government of Colombia has pinned its plans for sustained peace on peace and prosperity in the countryside, and why FAO is there promoting equitable rural development as the guarantor of continuing stability. Just one example illustrates how this can work. Similarly, in Côte d’Ivoire, FAO has engaged with the government to implement a new strategy for land tenure in rural areas and helped established mechanisms for conflict mediation between communities, in a post-conflict context where land disputes were prone to spark problems.

Combining efforts to restore and support resilient livelihoods with peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts is critical for sustainable development and food security and nutrition. Equally, investing in food security may strengthen efforts to prevent conflict and achieve sustained peace. The international community must bear in mind that to save lives, we need to save their livelihoods.