Armed Conflict and Hunger--The Extent of Armed Conflict
At the end of the 20th century, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food emergencies affected 52 million people in 35 countries, mainly in the developing world. Some of these situations resulted from adverse weather or economic and financial crises, but violent conflict, mainly in the form of civil wars, was frequently the major factor. In February, 2000, armed strife left more than 11 million people in16 developing and transition countries in need of food aid and other international humanitarian assistance and vulnerable to malnutrition (Table 1). More than two-thirds of these people lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, over 3 million people continued to require food assistance in the aftermath of conflict, since they remained displaced from their homes and sustainable livelihoods (Table 2). A majority (56 percent) of those facing post-conflict food insecurity were likewise found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Conflicts in the 1970s and 1980s were fueled in large part by Cold War policies that encouraged spending on arms and used food as a political tool. In 1989, hunger was being used as a weapon or existed as a consequence of earlier wars in 20 countries (excluding the Eastern Bloc) (Messer, 1990): Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Cambodia, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia-East Timor, Iraq, Iran, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, and Viet Nam. Largely as a result of the winding down of the Cold War after 1989, peace and progress toward free elections have been formally pursued in Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and South Africa. In all these cases, however, hunger endures as a legacy that contributes to lingering conflicts (Messer 1996a, 19-20). More positively, a return to food security has accompanied greater political stability in Uganda and Viet Nam. But offsetting these gains are renewed hostilities in Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Mexico, Rwanda, Somalia, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
These conflicts also underlie the increase in the number of refugees who cross international borders. The number of refugees rose to 23 million in 1996, up from 2.5 million in 1974, and the number of internally displaced persons who remained within their original state's borders was estimated at 27 million (Hansch, 1996). Refugees highlight the fact that conflicts have an important regional dimension; they affect the livelihoods and food security of households and individuals located far from the original fighting. People in neighboring countries suffer losses in entitlements and access to food when fighting spills across borders, disrupts regional commerce, or creates streams of refugees who must be fed. Refugees appropriate environmental resources and commandeer food, thereby creating scarcities of water, fuel, and food for local populations. Their sales of cattle and valuables, and sometimes of labor, distort regional and local exchange economies, again placing livelihood and subsistence at risk for residents.
Additional economic disruptions accompany conflict-related sanctions. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Jordan, which had sided with Iraq, faced sanction-related bans on customary commerce plus political penalties that reduced income from trade, foreign aid, and remittances by US$1.5 billion. Countries as far away as Pakistan and the Philippines suffered losses in income that reduced food security when foreign workers in Iraq were asked to leave and not return.
Regional conflicts distort most national economies in a region, whether or not their governments are directly involved in the fighting. From 1994 through 1996, Rwandan Hutu refugees destabilized and deforested refuge areas in the former Zaire. Rwandan and Burundian Tutsi intervention, aimed at eliminating these Hutu refugees and preventing their repatriation, is credited with finally toppling Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from power (McKinley, 1997). The Thai border region has been destabilized politically and economically by refugees from the Cambodian civil war, who, self-settled or maintained in refugee camps, transformed the political economy of the region and added a burdensome military presence. Arguably, the flood of indigenous Guatemalans fleeing military brutalities in the early 1980s challenged the economic and political stability of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, even as the Mexican government sought to resettle refugees away from potentially volatile political areas.
Contributing to meeting the food needs of refugees places a particular burden on recipient communities where food security is already marginal. Additional demands by newcomers for food, water, land, and fuel can reduce households that were only marginally food secure to acute food shortage. In bad years, when households are forced to sell assets to buy food, they often find markets disrupted, forage areas stripped, and buffers such as livestock reduced in value because refugees are also unloading their animals. Such conditions can turn seasonal or chronic food insecurity into acute famine and cause deaths far from the fighting. Refugees fleeing the fighting in northern Chad, for example, upset markets in western Darfur, Sudan, during the drought years of 1983-85, transforming that food shortage into a devastating famine (DeWaal, 1989b). Although in certain refugee-recipient regions, relief agencies such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) provided assistance to resident villagers as well as refugees in an effort to prevent short-term suffering or resentment leading to conflict, over the longer term these efforts also contribute to economic distortions and may leave local and regional economies in disarray when refugees uproot and return home, as in Malawi (Walker, 1994). Returning refugees, who can introduce to their home communities diseases such as AIDS, which have short-, medium-, and longer-term consequences for health and food security, also add to the burden of resident communities (Torres-Anjel, 1992).