Weaponisation of Food – a Biblical Response

“There is no question that food is being used as a weapon of war in many different ways,” David Beasley – World Food Program (WFP)

Today, conflict, economic recessions, natural disasters, and the high cost of food production and logistics are creating a massive food crisis. Up to 783 million people are facing chronic hunger. According to the WFP, in 2023, more than 333 million people in 78 countries are experiencing severe food insecurity, not knowing where their next meal will come from.

Violent conflicts and forcible displacements are the primary causes of hunger. Using food as a weapon of war can lead to mass civilian deaths and unimaginable suffering. Starving civilians during war is forbidden by the Geneva Convention and is considered a war crime.

Growing up in Sri Lanka, I saw how hunger was linked to war and displacement. The military imposed embargos and restricted essential goods like eggs, milk, meat, and fuel to areas controlled by militants. They also stopped fishermen from fishing after 6 p.m. and took over farmable lands as high-security zones, preventing farming.

You might have faced something similar, so I encourage you to think about how hunger is used as a weapon in your own context.

Reflecting on my experience, I want to share a Bible story about a city under siege. The people were starving, and the king was desperate and helpless. God brought the city of Samaria to the brink of ruin, but the prophet Elisha and some lepers eventually saved it.

A Biblical Example: The Siege of Samaria

The Bible tells a story in 2 Kings 6:24–30 about a siege by the Syrians on Samaria. The siege caused extreme hunger. People paid huge amounts for food, and some even resorted to cannibalism. A woman begged the king for justice after she and a friend ate her baby, but now the friend was hiding her own baby. The king, feeling powerless, cried out that only God could help them. He planned to kill the prophet Elisha in his anger.

However, Elisha predicted that within 24 hours, the siege would end, and food would be plentiful and cheap. In 2 Kings 7:3–8, four starving lepers decided to enter the Syrian camp, thinking they had nothing to lose. They found the camp deserted because God had scared the Syrians away. The lepers told the city, and people rushed out to plunder the camp, fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy.

Modern-Day Examples

In 2022, Russia ended a UN deal that ensured safe passage for grain exports across the Black Sea. Russian forces then bombed grain storage facilities in Odessa, Ukraine. These attacks affected the poor nations dependent on Ukrainian grain, especially in Africa and Asia, causing widespread food insecurity.

In Sudan, 18 million people face acute food insecurity due to civil wars, with five million on the brink of starvation. In Ethiopia, conflict and drought have left 9.4 million people needing food aid in Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions, with 12 million facing severe hunger nationwide. In Afghanistan, 17.2 million people, 40% of the population, are in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.

Reflections from the Biblical Story

The king’s encounter with the women in Samaria shows the cruelty of famine and his helplessness. He could do nothing and blamed the prophet. Similarly, in times of crisis today, those trying to help are often misunderstood or hindered by authorities.

The story of the four lepers proves God could use ordinary people. Outcasts brought the good news of available food to the city. Today, affected communities and churches often lead the response to hunger, staying when international agencies leave. Governments and agencies may be slow to respond or leave when they face funding challenges, but local churches remain to serve the affected communities.

Food is a critical issue in conflict in both biblical and modern times. The Bible’s lessons remind us to support and believe in those working to alleviate suffering, even in the face of great challenges.