Fighting with food: UN program combats extremism without weapons

UN General Assembly

Fighting with food: UN program combats extremism without weapons

Fighting extremism doesn’t have to be in the form of armed conflict, according to the U.N. World Food Programme. The group is distributing food to the vulnerable and desperate, who are often the main targets for terrorist recruiters.

But with less than 45 percent of U.N. appeals funded this year, it could be more and more difficult for the organization to combat extremism.  

CGTN’s Nick Harper reports from New York.
Follow Nick Harper on Twitter @NickHarperFSN

Fighting extremism not with weapons, but with food. The World Food Programme says it’s on the front line of the battle against terrorism, in a race to get food to the world’s most vulnerable.

“It is the most effective program out there, dollar for dollar, for fighting extremism,” according to David Beasley, executive director of World Food Programme. “If a mum and dad can’t feed their children after a week or two, and the only place you can feed your little girl is turn to the only available source out there, you go do it. And we’re seeing it. We’re seeing it left and right.”

Studies have shown that militant groups position themselves as social service providers to help recruitment. Hamas and Hezbollah use this approach, making food a simple but effective tool.

“If you can’t feed yourself or feed your family, you’ll go to extreme measures,” Tony Schiena, security expert at MOASIC, explained. “And if ISIS, or al Qaeda, or Boko Haram is dangling a banana in front of you, you’re going to take it. It’s a necessity.”

While food insecurity can create fertile ground for extremism to flourish, some say it’s only part of the problem. Marginalization is often a greater motivating factor for joining militant groups.

“If people feel that their food insecurity is as a result of action to deny them opportunity or inclusion, then they might begin to take up arms against their state, against their fellow countrymen,” Ozonnia Ojielo of the United Nations Development Program said. “So we need to understand what is the ‘additionality’ that pushes people , to get over the cliff as it were, and become violent extremists.”

The World Food Programme argues its work is vital in helping international security. President Trump’s plans to cut American funding to the U.N., therefore, leaves the group concerned that U.S. national security could be harmed.

David Beasley, the new head of the WFP, is a former Republican governor, but he’s taking a stance counter to the prevailing mood of his party. He’s asking the U.S. Congress to increase, rather than cut, funding to specifically help famine threatened countries like South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.