Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

FAO's Elwaer: Agrifood Systems Will Promote Healthy Food Environments

Fri 17 Jun 2022 | 10:49 AM
Ahmed Emam

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, Near East and North Africa Region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) the MENA and North Africa Region held a high-level meeting to accelerate action on maternal and child undernutrition.

The meeting brought together senior representatives from ministries of health, agriculture, planning, social welfare and education, and a wide range of stakeholders, including academia, research institutions, civil society and regional and country office representatives from the four the UN agencies, according to a joint statement released by the UN institutions in Egypt.

The overall objective of the meeting is two-fold: to support low- and middle-income countries facing high levels of undernutrition and food insecurity – in particular Afghanistan, Djibouti, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen – and to issue a call for action to address maternal, infant and child undernutrition in the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and Arab regions based on a life-course and systems approach, the statement explained.

The food security situation and the humanitarian and economic crises in these countries are having detrimental effects on access to healthy diets, purchasing power and dietary patterns, and are adversely affecting the nutritional status of the most vulnerable particularly children, adolescent girls and women, it added.

Further, the health and human crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined food security and nutrition.

Furthermore, global food prices have reached an all-time high in 2022 and the conflict in Ukraine threatens to disrupt global supplies of wheat, maize and other crops, as well as fertilizer, creating further pressure on prices and additional challenges to ensuring food security for many countries, the statement noted.

In his address,  Abdulhakim Elwaer, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, said, “The FAO Strategic Framework calls for transformation of agrifood systems to achieve Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and Better Life leaving no one behind. This will promote healthy food environments and make nutritious and safe diets more affordable, and thus expedite combating undernutrition,”

“During this high-level meeting, we look forward to agreeing on joint actions to address maternal, infant and child undernutrition in the Near East and North African, Eastern Mediterranean, and Arab regions focusing on improvements in several major areas: nutrition situation analysis; policies and programs to enable healthy diets; investments in essential maternal and child nutrition services; and nutrition counseling and social and behavior change."

On his part, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean said, “Accelerated action is urgently needed to protect populations, especially in countries with worsening food insecurity."

“I have been working closely with my fellow regional directors and representatives through our new Regional Health Alliance to address the double burden of malnutrition and accelerate progress towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals in our regions. By aligning our agencies’ work, we can maximize out impact where it really counts – at country level – and achieve our regional vision of health for all, by all”.

Check out the descriptive statistics of countries facing high levels of undernutrition and food insecurity below:


In Yemen, 17.4 million Yemenis are food insecure and this number is projected to go up to 19 million by December 2022. Malnutrition rates among women and children in Yemen remain among the highest in the world, with 1.3 million pregnant/breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under 5 requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. Of these children, 538.483 are at risk of dying without treatment.

In Afghanistan, nearly 1 in 3 people are hungry and 2 million children are malnourished.

In her neighboring country Pakistan, the annual burden of wasting (acute malnutrition) in children under 5 is estimated at 5 million, which is above the internationally agreed upon emergency threshold. In the Syrian Arab Republic, more Syrians are struggling to put food on their tables today than ever before. It is estimated that 12.4 million Syrians are now food insecure.


In Somalia, approximately, 2.7 million people cannot meet their daily food requirements today and require urgent humanitarian assistance, with more than half a million on the brink of famine.

Moreover, as of January 2022, an estimated 1.4 million children are facing acute malnutrition, of whom 329 500 are likely to become severely malnourished. These figures are likely to increase as the nutrition situation deteriorates further in the drought affected areas.

In Sudan, about 13.4 million people require humanitarian support in 2021, including 9.8 MM people who are food insecure. Moreover, about 3 million children suffer from wasting annually, with approximately 2.4 MM and 600 000 suffering from moderate acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition respectively.