In the Near East and North Africa (NENA), hunger continues to increase for several reasons. This is the alarming finding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), according to which 52 million people in the region suffer from undernourishment.
Between 2015 and 2017, 1.4 million Moroccans were chronically undernourished. This figure, presented by FAO in an international report released Wednesday, is not significantly different from that of previous years. Indeed, after a slight decrease from 1.7 million (between 2004 and 2006) to 1.3 (between 2014 and 2016), undernourishment is gaining ground again at the national level.
As a percentage of the country, the prevalence of undernourishment between 2004/2006 and 2015/2017 increased from 5.7% to 3.9%, where it has stabilized since 2014. The figure remains lower in comparison with neighbors, where it rose from 8.8% to 4.7% in Algeria, from 5.6% to 4.9% in Tunisia and from 12.1% to 11.3% in Mauritania.
In Morocco, people are not immune to food insecurity
If the popular saying goes that “we do not die of hunger in Morocco,” it remains the fact that undernourishment is a reality for more than a million Moroccans. According to the report, the prevalence of people with severe food insecurity between 2014 and 2017 increased from 5.1% to 5.7%.
For example, a 2011 survey cited in the FAO report shows that because of food insecurity in the country, 14.9% of children are stunted, 2.3% are slimming (wasting) and 3.1% extreme thinness (underweight), while 11.8% is overweight.
According to the same survey, the prevalence of anemia among girls and women of childbearing age (15-49 years) is 36.9%, while until 2016, 26.1% of adults (men and women) suffered from obesity. In terms of undernourishment and food insecurity and their consequences, these data contrast with the country’s self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables (116%), meat (100%) and oilseeds (98%), in milk (95%) or in cereals (59%).
However, these figures remain among the lowest in the region, since in Algeria, the prevalence of people affected by severe food insecurity rose from 8.5% to 8.3% between 2014 and 2017. In Tunisia, the trend is up slightly with an index rising from 7.4% to 7.5%. It is in Mauritania that this figure has evolved more considerably, from 13.9 to 18.3. In all of NENA, this percentage increased from 10.9% to 11.3%.
Food security is threatened throughout the NENA region
Globally in the NENA region, the upward trend remains general, with the number of undernourished people increasing from 41.6 million between 2004 and 2006 to 52 between 2015 and 2017. In conflict zones (Libya, Sudan Yemen, Syria and Iraq), this figure rose from 24.1 million to 33.9, while in non-conflict countries it rose from 17.4 million to 18 million.
Thus, the weighted average prevalence of severe food insecurity in the regional population is 11.3%. In the first category of countries, it is 17.7% while in the second category it is 8.9%. In this sense, the FAO says that “conflicts are always the main factor of suffering related to hunger in the region”.
“The conflicts and civil instability in the region have long-term effects on the food and nutrition security of the affected countries, but also of the neighboring countries”, explains in this sense Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director General and Regional Representative of FAO for the Near East and North Africa. The official explains that “conflicts have disrupted food and animal production in some countries,” which has “affected the availability of food in the region.”
However, conflict is not the only aggravating factor of undernourishment or food insecurity globally. While more than two-thirds of hungry people in the NENA region live in affected countries, 18 million other hungry people live in the rest of the region. “The rapid population growth, the fragile and scarce natural resources, the growing threat of climate change, the rising unemployment rate and the limited functioning of rural services and infrastructure are exacerbating suffering related to hunger,” says Ould Ahmed.
In this sense, putting an end to the food crisis that threatens even the development goals – especially rural – of the UN by 2030 while also fighting against obesity in the region “implies setting up food systems capable of to ensure a healthy and nutritious diet, to increase public awareness of food-related problems and to inform them about the risks associated with being overweight,” explains a FAO briefing note.
“It is necessary to encourage our farmers to produce based on the comparative advantage of the region,” added Ould Ahmed, noting that the NENA region “has a high potential for agricultural and livestock production that requires less arable land and water, but more labor”.