YEREVAN, Armenia — The first thing to understand about Armenia is that at the end of the 20th century it sustained some serious hardships. In 1988 there was an earthquake that killed almost 25,000 people and damaged the economy. The economy was worsened by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the USSR had invested heavily in Armenian industry. What followed was a mass exodus which led over half of the Armenian population to leave the country in search of work.
Between 1989-1994, Armenia fought against Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Millions of Armenians and Azerbaijanis fled their homes during the war and 20,000 to 30,000 people died. Although there is now a ceasefire, tensions between the two countries are still high. Turkey and Azerbaijan have closed off their borders to Armenia due to these tensions, which makes trade impossible and stifles the development of the Armenian economy.
Armenia has continued to struggle in to the 21st century. The 2008 financial crisis caused remittances, which are the main source of income for a fourth of the population, to drop by 30 percent in 2009. Exports decreased and the World Food Programme found that Armenian families were saving money by cutting back on meals.
The poverty rate has also increased since 2008, from 27 percent of Armenians living below the poverty line to 32 percent in 2012. Combined with the fact that under 20 percent of Armenian land is arable, an undeveloped economy, recurring conflict and increased poverty have created a humanitarian crisis of hunger in Armenia.
The good new is that there are those trying to help Armenia. Armenia receives assistance from NGOs and transnational organizations. The World Food Programme has been in Armenia since 1993. The WFP promotes Food for Work (FFW) and Cash for Work (CFW) activities. A typical example of a successful FFW activity would involve local unemployed men rehabilitating a dilapidated school in return for wheat and milk.
Another key activity started by the WFP is the School Meals Programme which began in 2010. Its goal is to secure one meal a day for half (50,000) of all primary school children in the country’s seven poorest regions. The program has been very successful and last year the government approved a plan for expansion to three more regions.
The success of the School Meals Programme gives hope that Armenia can address its hunger problem. Children are often hit the hardest in a country with low economic development and a high poverty rate. A program that attempts to reach the most vulnerable in society is a step in the right direction.
There is also an organization called Heifer International that has been working in Armenia since 1999. They claim to have “assisted more than 8,000 families in building small, viable farm businesses” by “investing in rural communities and working with those communities to find solutions to economic, social and ecological problems.” Their website is full of pictures and stories of families they have helped.
One family received two pregnant pigs, which birthed 17 piglets the family then sold in order to buy a bull calf. They raised the calf and then sold it for a profit to buy a pregnant heifer, a valuable resource. Once a heifer gives birth her milk can be used to make dairy products for sale. This story is just one example of how simple aid to rural farmers can make a difference.
Hunger in Armenia is multifaceted, rising from internal problems but also external factors out of their control. Armenia is a small country and it has little say over rising global food prices due to financial crises. However, if the government continues to create and expand programs like that of school meals, and international NGOs or governmental organizations help Armenia with funding and direct assistance, this small country might be able to bring itself out of its hunger crisis.
Sources: BBC News, Action Against Hunger, ARKA News Agency, WFP, WFP School Meals, WFP Activities, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Bank Data, Heifer International
Photo: Tourism Armenia