Middle East and North Africa

Health, education and nutrition

Middle East and North Africa - Dimensions of food security

Improving health and education services, reforming social security systems from subsidies to targeted transfer systems, fostering gender equality, and reducing population growth are key challenges for improving food security in MENA. Child malnutrition is widespread in MENA countries. IFPRI research in Yemen has shown that 59.4 of children aged 0-59 months were stunted, suggesting potentially grave effects for the health and productivity of future generations. Social protection and nutrition programs targeted to the food insecure and poor, such as food aid or school feeding programs, are thus also crucial.

Addressing population growth is an important factor for improving food security. MENA has a population growth rate of 1.9 percent, much higher than the world rate of 1.2 percent, and the second-fastest-growing population after Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the region’s limited natural resources and slow overall economic growth, bringing down population growth will have to be an integral part of the food security strategies in many MENA countries. The strong relationship between gender inequality and hunger suggests that reducing gender disparities in key areas, particularly in education and health, is essential to reducing hunger. For example, studies in Egypt and Mozambique have shown that ensuring that mothers complete primary school highly reduces the proportion of the population below the poverty line. Undernourishment and child malnutrition levels in several MENA countries also remain high, and even in countries with generally high per capita incomes, child malnutrition remains at about 5 percent. Nonfood factors contributing to child malnutrition in MENA countries include the quality of maternal and child care, female secondary education, and access to safe drinking water.