Food security in the Mediterranean: Public health concern

Published : Friday 21 September 2012
Habiba Hassan-Wassef
The escalation of diabetes is a concern for Arab countries.
Here, a diabetes awareness day in Bougaa (Sétif region, Algeria)
The steep rise in foodrelated health problems has put the human health issue high on the list of global concerns.

Recent debates on food security, nutrition and health have contributed to moving these topics higher up in the list of development programme priorities. These include the impact of the financial crises and their disastrous repercussions on food and energy; the alarming scourge of chronic food-related non-communicable diseases (NCD); the emergence of the central role played by food and its impact on health and sustainable development; a better understanding of the interconnection between climate change, agriculture and health.


All of this reinforces the awareness that food security remains, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, a fundamental human requirement.

In 2012, a conceptual framework was produced to improve understanding of the complex food security issue in the light of current threats, whether they be immediate or the result of more long-term dynamics, like climate change. The framework integrates a macro-economic dimension, shocks, and outside stresses like natural disasters, ultimately providing an overview of health and food as both a consequence and cause of under-development.

Politicians have finally started to react to the alarming progression of obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases round the world due to the heavy burden on public finances. The cost is both direct and indirect, because overnutrition, like undernutrition, not only has an immediate deficit impact on public health systems, but also an indirect impact on the gradual deterioration of human capital and the inevitable loss of productivity. The extent and gravity of health problems linked to food, which affect development, social activity and human beings’ creative and productive capacity, have moved the human health issue higher up in the range of global concerns. It was not until political negligence led to deteriorating health conditions that political leaders finally realized the importance of food security.


The uprisings or revolutions in countries to the South of the Mediterranean have shown the vulnerability of these countries in terms of food security. They have highlighted the limits of sectoral approaches used in the past to manage interdependent issues connected to food security.
Anyone who has looked at putting together integrated policies to tackle food security as an interdependent system will know that making inter-sectorial decisions is one of the biggest challenges in the face of deep-seated and opposing bureaucratic customs.
One of the keys to success at local, participative level, lies in the long-term operation and promotion of traditional, Mediterranean-type, food systems.
Populations’ specific food systems result from their natural resources and history, and the challenge will be to adapt these local food customs to the requirements of twenty-first-century consumers.

Habiba Hassan-Wassef, International expert on nutrition and health policies in development.
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