How conflict can lead to food insecurity and hunger

Jodesz Gavilan
How conflict can lead to food insecurity and hunger
Decades-long conflict between the forces of the government and groups like the MILF and MNLF leave a huge part of Mindanao in poverty

MANILA, Philippines – The effects of armed conflict can go beyond warring sides and spill over to even the most peace-loving residents.

These conflicts usually lead to situations that leave communities in despair – deaths, destroyed infrastructures, lost livelihoods, among others – and may eventually be evident in the future if not properly rehabilitated.

One does not need to look too far to see these effects.

The decades-long conflict between the forces of the government and groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) left a huge part of Mindanao in poverty.

In 2014, 10 of the 16 poorest provinces in the country were in Mindanao. One of the reasons cited for this is that even if the region has a vast array of natural resources, they remain largely untapped due to the dangers brought about by conflict. (READ: Mindanao’s power, infra problems scare investors away – envoy)

According to National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) data from 2000, the year when then president Joseph Ejercito Estrada declared an “all-out war” against the MILF, 20 belonged to the 44 poorest provinces. All of the provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM), where most of the conflict was concentrated, were included. 

The region also registered a 57% poverty incidence in the same year, a spike of 7% when compared to data from 1997.

Poverty leads to hunger

Unfortunately, one of the important factors in attaining a healthy life is also threatened by armed struggles. (READ: How food insecurity threatens us)

The latest Food Security and Nutrition Analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) says high levels of acute food insecurity are seen in Zamboanga and ARRM, while other areas in Mindanao show traces of food insecurity.

Meanwhile, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey shows that the prevalence of hunger in 2014 for Mindanao is at 19.2% or an estimated of 900,000 families.

When we go back to the year of the “all-out war”, data from SWS in 2000 shows a huge spike in the prevalance of hunger in Mindanao compared to previous years.

Conflict may not be the only cause of existing hunger and food insecurity in Mindanao areas. It cannot be denied, however, that the tensions that occur worsen the situation.

Factors behind malnutrition, food insecurity

Food security is near impossible to achieve when there is political instability and a clear presence of violence and terrorism, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  

In order to be food secure, 4 dimensions of food security need to be fulfilled simultaneously. These are physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food utilization, and stability throughout time.

These “requirements” however are the very ones lost or affected when armed conflicts occur. These encounters in Mindanao have also resulted in people losing their homes, lands, and a sense of community.

AWAY FROM HOME. Residents living along the coast near the area of a stand-off between the Philippine military and Muslim gunmen take shelter at a sports complex in Zamboanga on September 11, 2013. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), over 40% of families in Central Mindanao have been displaced at least once between 2000 and 2010. Data also show that one in every 10 families has relocated at least 5 times, spanning an average of one year.

From the “all-out war” during the administration of Estrada and the bouts of hostilities in the past decade, nearly a million people have fled their homes to safer places. During the Zamboanga siege between the MNLF and government forces in 2013, more than 100,000 residents were displaced.

However, these evacuation areas often lack access to livelihood. Eventually, armed encounters often destroy the existing sources of livelihood – farm lands, fisheries, among others – in areas the residents fled from, leaving them with nothing when they return.

This is unfortunate as according to reports, more than half of displaced families rely on farming to meet their basic necessities such as food and money.

In Mindanao, the most common type of livelihood is agriculture. Since 2004, Department of Agriculture data show that at least 4 million families have been employed in the agriculture sector, indicating a big role in the economy.

With no land to till and no source of money to start again, the farming families – already considered as members of the poorest sector in the country – plummet deeper into poverty.

As there are limited crops to harvest, food becomes scarce to the extent that no one is willing to sell. This leads to a spike in malnutrition among children in these conflict areas.

During and after Estrada’s all-out war, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) found out that 30% to 40% of preschool children in ARMM suffered from moderate to severe malnutrition. Meanwhile the Zamboanga siege resulted in at least 250 children suffering from malnourishment.

Other factors

The situation may be aggravated by the unsanitary environment, lack of proper sources of water which may cause diarrhea plus other diseases, and inhibit access to health centers in the evacuation places where the residents flee to stay away from the conflict.

Once the rubble clears, even just for a short time, and the families return to their communities, they face the problem of trying to get back on their feet with absolutely nothing to start with. 

Food insecurity and hunger in these areas may persist if peace – something communities have been hoping for – is not attained in the near future. –


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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.