June 29, 2017

Providing a 360-Degree Response to Food Insecurity and Conflict

By Laura Mack

Right now, humanitarian organizations are working tirelessly to save the lives of the nearly 30 million people on the brink of starvation due to four separate hunger crises. With the threat of famine looming in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia, the world is facing a humanitarian crisis of historic proportion.

Famine can be caused by a multitude of factors, but with Boko Haram in Nigeria, civil wars raging on in South Sudan and Yemen, and al-Shabab militants in Somalia, violent conflict is largely to blame for the current hunger crises in these four countries. To make matters worse, food insecurity can also foster and exacerbate existing conditions like conflict, political instability, and democratic breakdown. And with 1.4 million children suffering from– and dying of– malnutrition, the hunger crises of today will have severe, long-term effects for generations to come.

The United States invests critical aid to these four countries— more important now than ever before. But in light of the Administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, which proposes deep cuts to the State Department and U.S. foreign assistance, our ability to continue supporting relief efforts is no longer guaranteed.

That includes the work of U.S. government private sector partners and nonprofits like FHI 360, a human development organization that serves over 60 countries and plays a critical role in addressing complex crises like those in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. FHI 360 is known for its holistic, “360-perspective”– devising “integrated, locally driven solutions” through diverse partnerships with governments, NGOs, the private sector and communities. This approach is especially evident in FHI 360’s mission to combat global hunger. Its staff of experts with backgrounds ranging from health to nutrition to education, economic development, technology, and more currently manages food security programs across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

FHI 360 holds a more “nuanced” understanding of food security and its relationship to nutrition and health, among other factors. In Nigeria for example, FHI 360 has recognized that establishing long-term food security requires more than distributing emergency food supplies. Rather, sustainable change requires bolstering the capacity of local health systems to deliver accessible, comprehensive care.

UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator to Nigeria Peter Lundberg pointed out the need to address malnutrition as a contributing factor to the spread of deadly diseases, especially during times of famine. Lundberg explained that people will “most likely die from disease that could be easily prevented if their immune system had been much stronger… people will die from diarrhea, disease, or malaria, or anything else that they normally would be able to survive if they were in a much better nutritional condition.”

Likewise, FHI 360 recognizes poor nutrition as a harbinger of more severe health conditions. Over the past 15 years, the organization has delivered broad technical assistance to USAID and its partners through the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project (FANTA). FHI 360 conducts research on factors contributing to food insecurity, helps to design and implement nutrition policies and programming, and provides technical support in monitoring, analyzing and evaluating programs. FANTA has served 17 different countries, including Nigeria– adding nutrition assessment, counseling and support (NACS) to its health facilities as part of addressing near-famine conditions there.

Through the Strengthening Integrated Delivery of HIV/AIDS Services (SIDHAS) project, funded by USAID, FHI 360 also helps those most vulnerable to the fatal effects of food insecurity and malnutrition by providing mobile health clinics that deliver services to 15 internally displaced persons camps in Nigeria.

Fati Mohammed, a widow and mother, is just one among 8,800 people who has benefited from HIV testing and treatment services at these camps. Fati had already been enrolled in an antiretroviral treatment program at her local hospital in Dika through SIDHAS. However, her access to healthcare services came to a devastating halt when rebels infiltrated and shut down the town. Luckily, the SIDHAS mobile health clinics have made it possible for Fati and many other displaced people to receive these life-dependent services even when they are forced to flee their homes. By addressing both the immediate and long-term health needs of Nigerians, FHI 360 manages the detrimental effects of violent conflict and fortifies the local community’s ability to survive hunger crises.

Food assistance should not be thought of as a short-term, reactive solution to dire circumstances. Foreign aid to relieve hunger is a proactive measure towards improving the health, economic and political conditions for vulnerable populations worldwide.

Organizations like FHI 360 recognize the complexities of solving global hunger and strive to design and implement innovative solutions as an investment for the future. But with the proposed cuts to USAID, millions in need across the globe could have the rug swept out from underneath them– losing the critical food and health assistance they depend on. It is important that research, programs and public-private partnerships focused on human development continue to receive the resources necessary to empower communities worldwide.

Image: Mothers and babies in Kenya, Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images