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close this bookWho's Hungry? And How Do We Know? Food Shortage, Poverty and Deprivation (UNU, 1998, 199 pages)
close this folder6. Conflict as a cause of hunger
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentFood shortage related to conflict
View the documentFood poverty related to conflict
View the documentDistribution of conflict-related food poverty
View the documentFood deprivation related to conflict
View the documentThe hunger costs of sanctions
View the documentUnderlying conditions
View the documentHumanitarian and political principles and institutions limiting conflict-related hunger
View the documentMeasuring the ''hunger'' costs of conflict
View the documentConclusions
View the documentNotes
View the documentWorks cited

Food deprivation related to conflict

Even where food resources are available from domestic or external (relief) sources, access is selective. As already noted in the case of Sudan, governments selectively deny access to opposition groups, and opposition leaders reciprocate by denying food to government-controlled forces and towns, where possible. In addition, certain members of households and communities have less access to regular food sources or emergency rations because they are relatively powerless as a result of their age or gender status. These include women, children, and the elderly, who are the most frequent victims of hunger in food wars, because they are left behind when active males migrate in search of food or are commandeered into military service where they are fed. Women often are forced to give up local assets (land, seeds), go without extra labour (especially of absent males), suffer lack of protection (against violence, as local community moral and social structures are destroyed), and enjoy less health care. Both women and children suffer disproportionately from illness, where malnutrition and destruction of healthcare services render them more vulnerable, especially if, in the end, they are forced to flee in search of survival.

Children lose access to material and social resources at all social levels and are therefore more at risk of malnutrition, illness, and death. The most immediate and dramatic victims of hunger and war tend to be children, who die in great numbers of malnutrition-related illness; in Somalia in 1992, some estimate that up to 90 per cent of children under five died. It is a truism that governments at war invest fewer resources in child welfare: they favour military expenditures, and international assistance and investment (especially under conflict conditions) do not make up the deficit. UNICEF attempted to measure these investments by assessing which countries are least likely to meet World Summit for Children goals for improved child survival by the end of the decade. In their sample, those least likely to meet them are all "countries currently or recently affected by war or internal strife: Angola, Burundi, Haiti, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire" (Mason et al. 1996).

War-related refugee and displaced persons who have fled to situations that lack sanitation, water, and health services are especially susceptible to respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders that threaten lives (Winter 1995). Children are, in addition, exceptionally vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies that generally characterize emergency food rations, which supply predominantly calories through cereals, legumes, and edible oils. Women are special victims of both violence and hunger in refugee settings, where male thugs often control distribution of emergency rations.

Everyone is rendered more vulnerable to malnutrition as a result of higher levels of illness, a by-product of the deliberate or accidental destruction of health services and underinvestment in health programmes that accompanies war. The most vulnerable members of society are also more at risk of hunger as a result of underinvestments in food security and development because of relatively high military or defence expenditures. In most cases of conflict, the longer-term economic and fiscal burden of war appears far more costly in terms of human lives than is direct killing (Macrae and Zwi 1994).