Food insecurity is highest in the most fragile and degraded environments, prone to natural disasters and exposed to recurrent shocks and crises. In these landscapes, scarce in water and biodiversity, live some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Reliant on meagre resources, they lack access to diversified diets. They also have little opportunity to improve their health, education, economic growth, or development in the broadest sense.
Climate change and cyclical weather extremes have a disproportionate impact on these settings, multiplying existing threats to food security and nutrition. In the long term, climate change makes natural disasters more frequent and intense, land and water more scarce and difficult to access, and agricultural productivity harder to achieve.
Deprived of effective safety nets and social protection systems, poor and food insecure people can neither invest in more sustainable agricultural practices, nor even protect such modest resources as they have. They will instead resort to negative coping strategies, including overexploiting natural resources and further degrading the land. Two-thirds of people in Africa are estimated to be living on land that is degraded to some extent; globally, around a quarter of all land suitable for agriculture is degraded. As a result, every new drought or flood further depletes people’s assets, trapping them in a spiral of diminishing resilience and environmental misery.
The World Food Programme (WFP) helps countries and the most vulnerable and food insecure communities manage natural resources sustainably. This enables them to meet today’s livelihood needs and safeguard these resources for future generations. Our interventions – involving soil conservation and fertility measures, water harvesting and flood control – bolster agro-ecological productivity and reduce the loss of biodiversity. We rehabilitate irrigation schemes and develop water sources for domestic use, for agri- and aquaculture, and for livestock rearing; improve forestry and agroforestry management through afforestation, tree nurseries and seed collection; cut overgrown vegetation in abandoned and previously cultivated areas; and remove debris from agricultural areas after floods and landslides.
Access to clean water in arid and semi-arid contexts results in more diversified food, thereby complementing nutrition efforts. But as well as bringing communities closer to Zero Hunger, the restoration of degraded ecosystems boosts public health and reduces hardship in general. The availability of water and firewood closer to home, for example, reduces the need for women and girls to travel long distances to collect it – a common chore, which has been proved to expose them to harm.
We also work to enhance physical access to markets and services by building or rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, canteens, latrines, market places, community granaries and warehouses, and by providing alternative sources of energy such as fuel-efficient stoves. Where feasible and appropriate, under our Food Assistance for Assets programme, we transfer the responsibility for carrying out these tasks to our beneficiaries themselves – in effect, assisting them to develop and manage their own assets. As they build up their own nutritional status and communal wellbeing over the long term, vulnerable households receive food and cash assistance to cover their immediate food needs.