Where there is violence, hunger often lurks in the shadows. Though not always apparent, food scarcity can serve as a catalyst of conflict as well as a consequence of violent outbreaks. In many ways, the complex relationship between conflict and hunger is a bit ambiguous. Either one may cause the other. Wars may result from the desperation of the hungry or the greed of resource owners, but hunger may also be created from the devastation of war.
Functioning as a catalyst, hunger can fuel conflict due to either an overall shortage of commodities or the exploitation and selfish use of commodities by those in power. Additionally, inflation of food prices can cause high tensions and even riots.1 People compete over land and resources. Hunger provokes conflict as it can be used as weapon. Sieges can damage food supplies. Land and livestock are often destroyed.2 Economic sanctions can also severely hurt the food stability in a region as we have seen in Syria. The list goes on and on.
Hunger also functions as a consequence of conflict. An article from a 2012 edition of New Routes: A Journal of Peace Research and Action explains that conflict and social instability impact the "core elements of food security" which are availability, access, and utilization.1 Damaged equipment, destroyed farmland, closed markets and displaced farmers and herders all cause the availability of food to be jeopardized. Access to food is impeded when roads are destroyed, which leads to supplies being cut off. The utilization of food is not executed properly when there is a lack of clean water or shortages of certain nutrient-dense foods.1 Prolonged conflict can cause prolonged hunger. Even after the conflict ends, suffering continues due to hunger.
The intertwined nature of conflict and hunger is evident in our world today. A clear example can be seen by looking at the Central African Republic (CAR) where conflict has been heavily present since December 2012. According to the World Food Programme, around 1.6 million people in CAR are currently food insecure. They additionally reported that the 2013 agricultural production rate was approximately 40% lower than in 2012 and that food stocks in the main market in Bangui (the capital city) were only 20% of pre-crisis levels. Children have been hit especially hard by malnutrition. It is clearly evident that people are suffering due to conflict-related hunger. The ELCA is deeply concerned about the situation in CAR and supports the work of our companions in the region in an effort to combat poverty and hunger. (Read more about the work in CAR on the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.)
Hunger and conflict are not new problems, and there is no doubt that the two are closely connected. God has provided abundantly, but humans have created scarcity through the abuse and inefficient use of resources. Scarcity becomes especially prevalent around times of conflict. As Christians, we are called to acknowledge the reality of hunger and conflict in our world today. We are called to love our neighbors who are halfway across the world as well as the people who live next door or down the street. We are called to do our part to combat scarcity by advocating for food in a needy world and encouraging non-violent mediation in the midst of conflicts as we look forward to the day when God welcomes us to the eternal peace of our heavenly home.
Teri Mueller is an intern with ELCA World Hunger.