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Conflict, urbanization pose threat to food security in Asia, Africa | Updated: 2014-02-25 13:34

Conflict, rapid population growth and urbanization as well as heavy reliance on food imports are posing challenges for food security in West Asia and North Africa, UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday.

The Rome-based agency said Algeria, Jordan and Kuwait in the two regions have met the target of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) by halving the proportion of their population experiencing chronic hunger.

But a full picture of the two regions reveals that the number of undernourished people remains high at nearly 43.7 million, or 10 percent of the population, while 24.5 percent of children under five are stunted due to chronic under-nutrition, according to a FAO assessment.

Micronutrient deficiencies are common in both affluent and less affluent countries, having a number of serious consequences for school enrollment, productivity and public health, the report said.

Conflicts and civil strife remain the driving factor for food insecurity in West Asia and North Africa in recent years, the report said, adding that hotspots included Iraq, Sudan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Yemen.

In Syria alone, an estimated 6.3 million people are in need of sustained food and agricultural aid.

At the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, the FAO report, nearly one quarter of people in the two regions are now obese, which is double the world average and nearly three times the obesity rate of developing countries as a whole.

On top of long-standing structural challenges, climate change and emerging animal diseases are also undermining food security in the two regions. The regions' heavy reliance on imports of food to meet its consumption needs makes it extremely vulnerable to increases in and volatility of international agricultural commodity prices, according to the assessment.

"This dependence on external food sources is projected to intensify over the decades to come," it says.

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