In a Middle East torn apart by war and conflict, fighters are increasingly using food as a weapon of war.
Millions of people across countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq are gripped by hunger, struggling to survive with little help from the outside world. Children suffer from severe malnutrition, their parents often having to beg or sell possessions to get basic commodities including water, medicine and fuel.
The biggest humanitarian catastrophe by far is Syria, where a ruinous five-year civil war has killed a quarter of a million people and displaced half the population. All sides in the conflict have used punishing blockades to force submission and surrender from the other side - a tactic that has proved effective particularly for government forces seeking to pacify opposition-held areas around the capital Damascus.
Since October, Russian airstrikes and the start of yet another winter have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis and led to deaths from starvation in some places.
Humanitarian teams who recently entered a besieged Syrian town witnessed scenes that “haunt the soul,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He accused both the government of President Bashar Assad and rebels of using starvation as a weapon, calling it a war crime. The conduct of forces carrying out sieges and their behaviour toward civilian populations are regulated by international humanitarian law. Past cases include the sieges of Gorazde and Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.
The UN and aid agencies have struggled with the delivery of humanitarian assistance despite Security Council resolutions insisting on the unconditional delivery of aid across front lines.
In Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished nation, nearly half of the 22 provinces are ranked as one step away from famine.