WASHINGTON – The Syrian civil war and fall out from climate change  have curbed long running international success at reducing global hunger, Rick Leach, CEO of the World Food Program, warned Wednesday.  

Since 2000, innovation and billions of dollars in aid have lowered the number of people living in hunger by 200 million, Leach told the Stimson Center.  Last week, the 2016 Global Hunger Index showed hunger had fallen 29 percent this century.  

Money and new approaches should help going forward. But refugees displaced from basic resources continue to expand the need, while intransigent governments prevent food from being delivered.   

“All of this progress is being threatened” Leach said. “We have 66 million people displaced because of war… That is a major threat because those are people suffering from not only food insecurity but displaced from their homes, displaced from the capacity to take care of themselves.”

Climate change exacerbates the problem, Leach said at the think tank panel, which wrestled with innovative approaches to producing and delivering food. Drought and extreme weather destroy crops and have moved another 22 million people from their homes and basic resources.  

It can also create more conflicts. Early in the election season, onetime Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley spotlighted a growing scientific consensus when he told Bloomberg that climate change caused the Syrian Civil War. Essentially, a six-year drought in Syria prompted sweeping societal changes and economic desperation that eventually erupted in war.  


Refugees from both climate change and conflict zones often flood into countries already struggling with food and further strain their resources, said Klaus von Grebmer, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, which produces the Global Hunger Index. Grebmer was not on the panel.  

Leach said that the international community knows what to do to alleviate hunger: deliver immediate aid to displaced people and others in emergency situations; send targeted assistance to vulnerable groups such as pregnant mothers; train small farmers, and help countries create their own anti-hunger safety-net systems.  

Almost none of that, however, can be accomplished without government cooperation.

In South Sudan, the government has prevented delivery of aid from certain groups, said panelist Johanna Mendelsohn Former, a Stimson Researcher.  South Sudan, which has been ravaged by civil war for almost its entire existence, was singled out by the Global Health Index as one of the primary areas in need.  

“First thing is to end the conflict, then you can end hunger,” Grebmer said.