In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, soldiers and rebels are accused of actively starving the population. Photo: Rod Waddington. Source: Flickr.


Hunger is used as a weapon in conflict

The number of people living on the brink of starvation is increasing drastically in the world. At the same time, hunger and starvation by civilians are used as weapons in warfare, including in the Ethiopian region of Tigray. The link between armed conflict and hunger has been highlighted by international organizations in recent years, but a new view of food as a right is needed to truly eradicate world hunger.

In early November, the UN alerted food program (WFP) that 45 million people worldwide live in acute famine. In 2019, the figure was 27 million. This drastic increase is attributed, among other things, to the Covid 19 pandemic but also to the sharply worsening situation in Afghanistan. The fact that there are actors who also actively use hunger to promote a side in a conflict is nothing short of frightening.

In the war-torn Tigray region of Ethiopia, 350 people live in starvation conditions. In addition, people there are actively exposed to starvation, according to the news agency Associated Press. Civilians are trapped in a civil war between Tigray rebels and Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. Soldiers are accused of disrupting supply chains, blocking food aid and looting crops.

- Food is definitely used as a weapon of war, stated the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mark Lowcock, for to Reuters.

Hunger, food security and conflict are mutually reinforcing

The capacity to provide food for its citizens even in the event of conflicts and other disturbances is called for by the UN and other organizations food safety. When the term was coined, it aimed to maintain a local self-sufficiency and reserves of, for example, grain so that a population would not starve if a crisis arose. In the 80s, the definition changed to the ability to import food, rather than to produce. The social and moral dimension of the concept disappeared and food, the most basic and necessary for human survival, became nothing more than a commodity.

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan accounts for a large part of the growing proportion of people living on the brink of starvation. Much of Afghanistan's increased food security is due to the conflict between the Taliban and international and national forces, which have displaced people from their homes and livelihoods. This is also partly due to the fact that in recent decades the country has become increasingly dependent on imports and aid for its food supply. Many of the transport channels have now been shut down or blocked due to the Taliban's takeover, the news company reports with the BBC.

Attention to the connection between hunger, food security and conflict has increased in recent years. In 2018 adopted by the UN Security Council resolution 2417 and thus condemned the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. Two years later, in 2020, WFP was awarded Nobel Peace Prize, which recognized the link between hunger, food insecurity and armed conflict.

When crops are burned and food supplies are blocked as part of the war in armed conflict, many people risk starvation. Photo: Martin Fisch. Source: Flickr.

Food insecurity and conflict can be mutually reinforcing. A necessary step is to get supplies of food and other humanitarian aid to a population. No people deserve to be collectively punished for what their government or governing body in a side of a conflict stands for or has done. But in order to stabilize the food supply of conflict-affected regions in the long run, it is also necessary to increase food security in the region.

How many obstacles should there be on the path of food to man?

What then needs to be done to solve the problem? Among others IFPRI, International Food Policy Research Institute, emphasizes the importance of including conflict-affected and displaced populations in food systems and supply chains. It is thus not just a matter of getting food aid to reach people who are denied this elsewhere, but of giving people access to their own land and livelihood. Reasonably, then, food and hunger would become more difficult to use as warfare.

When food becomes a commodity to be negotiated to such an extent that people are denied food for political or economic reasons, we must rethink. How many obstacles should there be on the path of food to man? To truly achieve the goal of eradicating hunger, we must focus on the link with armed conflict - and that all people should have the right to power over the earth and food. We must ensure that this deliberate and man-made famine, this serious violation of human needs and dignity, disappears.

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a column for Utvecklingsmagasinet or is there something in the text that is incorrect? Contact us at

Share this: