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Cut hunger by half in Mena by 2015, says UN group

Hunger rates decreased globally and increased in the Mena region, expert says

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Although hunger rate has been decreased globally, it is still increasing in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region recently due to high food prices, global economic crisis and increasing natural disasters and conflict, Ashraf Hamouda, head of partnership and business development at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in the MENA region, Central Asia and Eastern, Europe, told Gulf News.

With more than one billion hungry people worldwide, the largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger worldwide is set on halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

“With just a few years remaining, reaching our goals on hunger by 2015 will require both more resources and more political will,” Hamouda said.

Hunger may lead to lower productivity, compromised health and educational achievement as well as higher rates of poverty.

“I would say that Syria and Yemen are currently the main countries suffering and in need for more support and assistance to build a stronger future, as they are in the midst of a political transition and humanitarian crisis,” he said.

According to the WFP statistics released in 2013, in the country of Yemen, more than 10 million people -- almost half the country’s population -- are either hungry or on the edge of hunger. Child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world with close to half of Yemen’s children under five years old. Two million children are stunted and one million are acutely malnourished.

“Food insecurity has significantly increased due to a weakened economy and large population displacements. It is estimated that 22 per cent of the population are severely food insecure,” WFP confirmed.

WFP not only strives to eliminate the need for food aid itself, but also attempts to implement gender equality and high quality education.

“Gender disparities are also a particular concern, as inequality in Yemen has been ranked highest in the world by the World Economic Forum for the past three years.

The average illiteracy rate in Yemen is 46 per cent: 27 per cent for men and 66 per cent for women, which demonstrate large gender gap. Impediments to girls’ education include the limited number of women teachers in rural areas, the long distances that girls have to walk in order to get to school, traditional attitudes regarding female education and comparably high rates of child marriage,” Hamouda explained.

WFP Response

The proportion of underweight children in Yemen is the third highest in the world after India and Bangladesh.

“Several school meals have been provided as a strong incentive to send children to school and allow them to focus on their studies, rather than their stomachs. The WFP school meals benefit approximately 2.5 million children across the Middle East and specifically 53,000 in Yemen.

Additionally, for particularly vulnerable students, such as girls or orphans, in -school meals can be combined with take-home rations to families, which include 50 kg of wheat grains and 5 litres of fortified vegetable oil, if their children attend school regularly,” Hamouda explained.

WFP school feeding activities in Yemen aimed at increasing girls education in order to encourage parents to educate their young daughters.

“The scheme has proven to be very successful in Yemen, as girls’ enrolment rates in WFP-supported schools grew by 60 per cent since 2006 and girl’s attendance exceeded that of boys in some districts,” he added.

Several strategic and potential partnerships can be built and enhanced to advance the corporate social responsibility agenda and act as a powerful tool to support the role of WFP.

“UAE has been a great supporter for WFP and for the last ten years we have been hosted and housed by the International Humanitarian City in Dubai. It is the world’s largest and busies logistics hub for humanitarian aid in the region and they had put all expertise in transport to work for different aid agencies as they reach out to help victims of crises and families whose lives are scarred by hunger and poverty,” Hamouda said. “Private sector involves employees who are aware of what is happening can perfectly match the organisations’s goals and reach other actors for more funding,”