Concern’s commitment to leaving no one behind has increasingly taken the organisation to fragile contexts, where the devastating consequences of conflict and resulting levels of human suffering have soared in recent years.
Conflict and hunger are inextricably linked: in 2017, 124 million people faced crisis-level food insecurity, with conflict the key driver in 60 per cent of cases of acute food insecurity. As the global community strives to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) of ending hunger, progress is being fundamentally undermined by conflict. This report seeks to understand: i) how conflict affects different individuals’, groups’ and communities’ experience of hunger and food insecurity differently; ii) the different mechanisms by which conflict affects food security across the different pillars; and iii) what opportunities remain for mitigating the impacts of conflict on hunger.
South Sudan is one of the world’s most conflict-affected and food-insecure countries. In spite of years of steady progress in the reduction of hunger globally, in 2017, famine was declared in parts of the country. Now entering its fifth year, conflict has had a devastating toll on food security, and its impacts show no signs of abating. An estimated 6.1 million are in need of urgent food assistance; and over one million children under the age of five are affected by moderate or severe acute malnutrition. At current levels, humanitarian assistance reaches less than half of all households in need, primarily due to insecurity. In a crisis of this magnitude, even those areas far beyond the front lines of fighting are suffering immensely and feeling the effects of conflict in their communities.
This study documents conflict’s devastating impacts on food security in areas both acutely and less directly affected by violence. In the former, severe insecurity limits movement and in some cases, leads to near-total dependence on food aid.
Restrictions on humanitarian access either because of generalised insecurity, or deliberate efforts to prevent access, are deadly weapons of war. Even in areas that appear more stable, conflict profoundly affects communities through localised violence, economic crisis, and as a force multiplier in contexts of natural disasters and climate change.
The research also highlights that although conflict’s impacts on food security are devastating and wide-reaching, they are also unequally distributed within households and communities. The gendered dimensions of conflict and hunger are particularly stark. Women and girls are primarily responsible for food collection and preparation, meaning they often put themselves at grave risk when searching for food. They are also more likely to deny themselves (and other female family members) food to meet the needs of men. Finally, they suffer disproportionately from (sometimes violent) power imbalances within the household that are brought into sharp relief in times of crisis. Men’s internalised gender roles as financial providers contributes to feelings of shame, powerlessness and helplessness as they struggle to provide the most basic of necessities: food.
Finally, the study outlines ways in which conflict severely disrupts traditional coping mechanisms and mutual support systems, and through these, further exacerbates hunger and food insecurity. At extreme levels, depleted household assets and competition for scarce resources can diminish cooperation, mutual solidarity and systems of reciprocity that are central to community cohesion and resilience. In such contexts, national-level political conflict can indirectly fuel a vicious cycle of poverty and localised violence.