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FAO: 'Conflict, civil strife drive food insecurity in Near East, North Africa'

Rome, Italy - Conflict, rapid population growth and urbanisation, as well as a heavy reliance on food imports are posing serious challenges for food security in the Near East and North Africa, although progress has been made in some countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Monday.

In a statement issued here, FAO said three countries in the region (Algeria, Jordan and Kuwait,) have met the hunger component of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) by halving the proportion of their population experiencing chronic hunger.

But region-wide, the number of undernourished people remains high at nearly 43.7 million, or 10 percent of the population, while 24.5 percent of children under five are stunted due to chronic under-nutrition, according to an assessment presented Monday at the start of the Organisation's  regional conference.

Micronutrient deficiencies are common in both affluent and less affluent countries, having a number of serious consequences for school enrollment, productivity and public health.

Conflicts and civil strife remain the driving factor for food insecurity in the region in recent years, FAO says.

Hotspots include Iraq,  Sudan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Yemen.

In Syria alone, an estimated 6.3 million people are in need of sustained food and agricultural assistance.

At the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, nearly one quarter of people in the Near East and North Africa are now obese - this is double the world average and nearly three times the obesity rate of developing countries as a whole.

On top of long-standing structural challenges, climate change and emerging animal diseases are also undermining food security in the Near East and North Africa, notes FAO.

And the region's heavy reliance on imports of food to meet its consumption needs makes it extremely vulnerable to increases in and volatility of international agricultural commodity prices.

This dependence on external food sources is projected to intensify over the decades to come, the UN agency's assessment says.

Pana 24/02/2014