I've been working on a paper about food security and food aid in the Palestinian Territories for almost 3 years (it's just about ready for submission). In the time since I've started this paper, which was my first real entry into the field of food security, the literature in the area of weaponizing food and hunger has significantly expanded, in large part due to the sieges and images of starvation from conflicts in Syria and Yemen. It is clear that ensuring the wide scale suffering of civilian populations is a powerful mechanism in pressuring adversaries for regimes who have no regard for human rights. By placing blockades on incoming goods and destroying infrastructure such as bakeries, farms, and food production factories, denying food is a relatively simple and effective tool, as well as inhumane and in violation of international law.
This morning I came across an article by the executive director of the World Food Programme entitled "Hunger as a Weapon of War." It crystallizes just how much the weaponization of food is a complete failure of all international actors. A practice as inhumane as the destruction of hospitals in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza, and of course Syria, denying civilians food simply because they are perceived to be as part of the "other" group is becoming increasingly commonplace- and largely treated as just another consequence of war. But this is not a technical or logistic problem; the food is there, organizations that want to deliver the food are there, and people are starving in their homes. This is a failure of political will, and our collective global inability to intervene at times of real human crisis have become standard. Don't get me wrong- there are lots of amazing organizations doing important work and making tangible change in the lives of vulnerable people. There are many nations who dedicate resources to humanitarian needs around the world. These are facts. However, we witness violation after violation of humanitarian law, and the majority of the time, the response is mere condemnations or maybe, sometimes, sanctions (and even this is extremely difficult). International relations are very delicate, and its complexity is generally brought up as a reason why additional action is not possible, even in the face of the most horrific atrocities, sometimes perpetuated by state actors. I don't think we can afford to accept this any longer. Not just for the moral imperative, but because as these states devolve or "de-develop," they become even weaker, more fragile, and more susceptible to further conflict.