Theme 5. Conflict and disaster: responding at local and international levels



As global warming, political turmoil and scarcity of natural resources increase, we foresee that conflicts and disasters, will unfortunately only multiply worldwide. Therefore the discussion on how they impact on us and how we respond is an important one for the food sovereignty movement but one which has received relatively little attention till now. Many disasters are not ‘natural’, although they are triggered by climatic or seismic events beyond our control. The disastrous effects of these events result from human activity, such as deforestation, mangrove clearance, fossil fuel burning, sub-standard building construction, and most impact more on poor people who suffer more severely from, for example, the effects of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes.

Conflicts, wars, occupations and disasters all have a similar and complex relationship with food sovereignty. We have seen cases where a lack of food sovereignty has led to conflicts and human­induced ‘natural’ disasters. On the other hand, the struggle for control over natural resources is at the root of many conflicts, both local and international. The typical response of donors and governments to “support” communities affected by war or natural disaster, such as delivering food aid, in itself further attacks their food sovereignty. Wars and disasters are increasingly being used as opportunities to grab the territories, markets and natural resources of people who are forced to abandon their lands and live as refugees. Wars also contaminate agricultural and forest lands and water bodies and make food production extremely risky for communities. “Reconstruction” projects following conflicts/wars and disasters often alienate affected communities from lands and other productive resources.

It is important that we examine cases of how a food sovereignty approach has contributed to strengthening communities against the impacts of conflicts and disasters. By examining successful cases of local emergency planning, and disaster preparedness and response, we can try to identify the “elements” of success. Equally important is a critical assessment of food aid so that we can start to uncover the intricate links between politics and hunger. And finally, we must examine how successful our attempts at international solidarity, in the face of conflicts, wars and disasters, have been so far and how they can be strengthened.

What are we fighting for?

– Does food sovereignty have any real relevance for communities suffering from conflict or disasters? Is the food sovereignty movement only useful for mobilising international solidarity, or are there practical ways in which the movement has been, or could be, useful in situations of conflicts and disasters?

– What does food sovereignty imply for children, youth and women who are the most exposed to the ravages of these conflicts as their links to the land are much closer than that of the often more mobile men?

– How can we describe the positive examples of responding to disasters and conflict that serve to strengthen food sovereignty, build resilience and the movements?

What are we fighting against?

– Food aid has been a veritable tool for environmental degradation and stunting of national efforts at local food production and food sovereignty.

How can we stop unnecessary food aid and other destructive forms of international assistance, which are not just brought to us by international organisations and governments, but also by NGOs.