CAIRO / ROME, 12th May, 2016 (WAM) –Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, has said that countries under conflict in the region had a serious setback in its fight against hunger, echoing the FAO’s conviction that ‘where there is conflict, there is hunger, and ‘where there is hunger, there can be no lasting peace’.

He said that in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, 15 out of the 19 countries monitored by the FAO have achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), target of halving the proportion of undernourished people, while the State of Kuwait and the Sultanate of Oman also achieved the more ambitious World Food Summit target of halving the total number of hungry people.

Speaking at the ministerial meeting of the 33rd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East, he said that this conference offers a great opportunity to reflect at the regional level on how to overcome the many challenges ahead.

“As we all know, the United Nations member countries have just begun to pursue the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs). Food and agriculture lie at the very heart of the 2030 Agenda, especially regarding the SDGs number 1 and 2, of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger in just 15 years. Nearly 80 percent of the world’s extremely poor and hungry people live in rural areas,” he told.

In attendance were Akram Chehayeb, Minister of Agriculture of Lebanon, and Chairperson of the 33rd Session of the Regional Conference for the Near East; Wilfred Ngirwa, Independent Chairperson of the FAO Council and Ambassador Amira Gornass, Chairperson of the World Food Committee.

In his speech, Mr. da Silva said that for the NENA region as a whole there has been a 30 percent increase in the prevalence of undernourishment. The total number of hungry people has doubled, and now stands at nearly 33 million.

The vast majority of these people affected by food insecurity live in Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In these countries and areas under protracted crises, “conflict has been the main driver of hunger and malnutrition,” he explained.

In Syria, 6.5 million people have been internally displaced, while more than 4.8 million have fled to the neighbouring countries and elsewhere as refugees. Half of the Syrian population that remains in the country is in need of food assistance.

“FAO has been working with its partners to strengthen the food security and resilience of the most affected people, not only to mitigate impacts, but also to set the foundations for post-crisis recovery,” according to him.

The DG FAO said that the NENA region is also facing an unprecedented escalation in water scarcity. The average availability of fresh water per capita stands at just 10 percent of the world average.

“Water scarcity is rising as urban populations grow and divert it from agriculture, with negative consequences for food security and the rural economy. In addition, climate change compounds the already dire natural resource situation in the region. It exacerbates existing vulnerabilities to natural hazards such as drought,” he added.

FAO has been working to implement the set of recommendations approved in the last Regional Conference in 2014, he said, adding that three Regional Initiatives have started to show positive results. The first Initiative, “building resilience for Food Security”, gives priority to supporting resilience interventions in countries affected by protracted crises.

On nutrition, FAO has helped countries to set up national multi-stakeholder committees to follow up on the Second International Conference on Nutrition. The organisation has also facilitated a regional dialogue among member countries, civil society, the League of Arab States, and development partners.

Regarding the Second Regional Initiative on Small-Scale Agriculture, he said that the FAO has promoted interventions that address some key areas, such as governance and institutions, capacities of producer organisations, social protection and youth employment.

The third Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity has supported the implementation of the “Regional Collaborative Strategy on Sustainable Agricultural Water Management and Food Security”, he stated.

In order to assist countries in tracking and monitoring water efficiency and productivity, the Initiative has initiated action to develop systems for monitoring and reporting on water use, including remote sensing techniques.

“Despite the significant challenge that resource mobilisation efforts face in the region due to political instability and insecurity, the resources mobilised for NENA amounted to US$83 million in 2014, and only $61 million in 2015,” he disclosed, adding, “We need more support from the rich countries in the region to better assist themselves and their neighbours.”

In his speech Mr. da Silva pointed out another important agenda item for the conference – the review of the Decentralised Offices Network. He said that the FAO is seeking to update the coverage of its decentralised offices, in order to ensure more efficiency and better conditions to assist member countries.