|Who's Hungry? And How Do We Know? Food Shortage, Poverty and Deprivation (UNU, 1998, 199 pages)|
|6. Conflict as a cause of hunger|
Conflict-related hunger in the shadow of the post-World War II United Nations is both counted and countered by UN inter-governmental and other bilateral and international agencies. Every society has traditions that restrict permissible violence against fellow human beings, the environment, and livelihoods. They usually limit application of these principles, however, to those of their own cultural kind.
By contrast, international human rights and humanitarian covenants, which specifically provide for feeding of civil populations in international and intranational wars, are meant to be universal. The second, third, and fourth Geneva Conventions (1949) and Additional Protocols (1977) provide international guidelines to combatant parties for meeting essential humanitarian needs and ensuring basic subsistence rights of civilian populations experiencing armed conflict.
The International Federation of the Red Cross-Red Crescent Societies and NGOs, in accordance with these principles, intervene to move food into zones of armed conflict. Following humanitarian principles adopted by the United Nations, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also are engaged with limiting destructive hunger due to war and promoting survival. International NGOs, such as CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Concern, Save the Children, and Médecins sans Frontières ("Doctors Without Borders"), along with regional NGOs, also move food into conflict and refugee areas. They also try to assist the restoration of order and to rebuild while providing food after the wars. All follow the Human Rights principles expressed in the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declare that food is a basic human right and a principal component of the universal human right to life.
International legal instruments, such as the International Conference on Nutrition World Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition (1992) and the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights (1993), support the principle that food should never be used as a political tool nor hunger as a weapon. They provide a reference point and standard for action for the United Nations, its member states, and its agencies.
A third set of principles protects the refugee victims of conflict who have crossed borders or are otherwise stateless and therefore beyond protection of any UN member.
A principal concern for all those using these legal principles to justify food relief interventions is to handle food flows in ways that reach the neediest victims and do not further nourish the oppressors, combatants, and conflict. Even allegedly "successful" multilateral efforts to feed the hungry on both sides of the conflict, such as Operation Life Line in the Sudan in 1989, have been criticized as prolonging the war effort by providing recognition and legitimacy to insurgents and giving everyone time for a respite that encouraged them to fight on.
Also criticized for prolonging conflict are food relief operations implemented by "military humanitarianism." In very recent conflicts, large-scale food aid has been delivered by an international military force, a solution favoured in circumstances where logistics and security concerns make it unlikely that civilian operations can deliver food successfully, as in Iraqi Kurdistan, Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. But use of the military in support of humanitarian action, such as movement of food into zones of armed conflict, also has been criticized for its war-prolonging potential. None of these operations have met humanitarian needs very successfully, and the combined military and food dimensions of aid intensify armed aspects of conflict by providing food, employment, income, and opportunities for further pilferage (Duffield 1994).
Another concern is to use relief in a manner that can help restore livelihoods and food security. Food-for-work theoretically is the relief mode of choice, especially in circumstances where people need food and income and where public works, such as land and water management, must be rebuilt. In conflict, or post-conflict, situations, however, the logistics of food-for-work may be impossible or inadvisable for at least two reasons: first, social infrastructure is needed to organize labour and communities, where none may exist; second, the most needy may not be fit for work, and may be excluded from food distributions if labour participation is the criterion for receiving food. These constraints, which have been described recently in the case of Ethiopia, are specific examples of the difficulties of calculating and remedying the multidimensional and longitudinal "hunger" costs of war (Davies 1994; Maxwell and Lirensu 1994).