34 countries going hungry amid food shortages
Thirty-four countries - nearly 80 percent of them in Africa - don't have enough food for their people because of conflicts, drought and flooding, according to a new report released by the United Nations.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report said conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and the Central African Republic have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production, worsening the humanitarian crisis in those countries.
In Yemen, where ongoing fighting has killed around 6,000 people, about half of them civilians, famine now looms over half the population.
More than 14 million people in the country are food insecure, while nearly 320,000 children under five years old are severely malnourished.
The FAO has warned of a "staggering" food crisis in Yemen, with the highest ever recorded number of people now living in hunger.
Syria is witnessing an even more dire situation. Since the conflict erupted in 2011, the regime has used food as a weapon of war.
The extent of this was highlighted recently when images were posted online of emaciated Syrians from the besieged town of Madaya.
The shocking images of skeletal children caused so much international outcry that the Syrian government was forced to let food and medicine through.
Aid workers who entered the town earlier this year reported seeing parents giving their children sleeping pills to calm their hunger.
A Siege Watch report, issued by the Netherlands-based aid group PAX and the Washington-based Syria Institute in February, revealed that more than one million Syrians are trapped in besieged areas.
At least 250,000 living under siege are children, with many forced to eat animal feed or leaves to survive.
"Sometimes my brothers and sisters and I go to bed and we haven't eaten anything at all since the day before, because there is no food," said Sami, a boy in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.
The impact of these conflicts extends to neighbouring countries that are hosting refugees, straining the food resources of the hosts.
|Sometimes my brothers and sisters and I go to bed and we haven't eaten anything at all since the day before, because there is no food|
Dry conditions have also lowered expectations for harvests this year in Morocco and Algeria.
"With a reduced harvest in 2015, the food security situation is likely to deteriorate compared to the situation of previous years, when most households were already estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption rates," the report said.
The number of countries needing outside food assistance grew from 33 in December, after the addition of Swaziland, where El Nino-associated drought conditions have sharply lowered 2016 cereal crop production prospects.
Other countries on the FAO list facing food shortages are Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Nepal.
The report said that, elsewhere, the outlook for 2016 crops already in the ground - mostly winter grains in the northern hemisphere - was generally favourable, and early forecasts indicated large wheat crops in most Asian countries.
FAO's first forecast for wheat production in 2016 is 723 million tons - 10 million tons below the record output in 2015.