Women wait with their children under a shed for food rations at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria on 6 June 2017. Reuters File PhotoPersistent conflicts and extreme weather are currently driving high levels of severe food insecurity, particularly in Southern African and Near East countries, which continue to require humanitarian assistance, said a report issued on Thursday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.Some 39 countries, 31 of which are in Africa, seven in Asia and one in the Caribbean (Haiti), are in need of external food assistance—unchanged from three months ago, according to the Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.FAO stresses that protracted conflicts, extreme weather events and displacement continue hampering food access for millions of vulnerable people.Civil conflicts and population displacement remain the key drivers of food insecurity in East Africa and the Near East, whereas dry-weather conditions reduced cereal outputs in Southern Africa, according to the report.FAO’s latest forecast for global cereal production in 2018 is pegged at 2587 million tonnes, a three-year low and 2.4 per cent below last year’s record high level.Cereal production in the 52 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) is projected this year at around 490 million tonnes, about 19 million above the past five-year average. The unchanged aggregate output reflects weather-reduced outputs in Southern Africa, Central Asia and the Near East that are foreseen to be offset by production gains in Far East Asia and East Africa, said the report.Civil conflicts, often coupled with climate-related extreme events, have taken their toll on food security of vulnerable populations in Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen among others, the report underlined.In Yemen, due to the ongoing civil war, an estimated 17.8 million people are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance, a five percent increase from 2017, the report said.In the Central African Republic, about 2 million people, or 43 per cent of the total population, are estimated to be in need of urgent assistance for food due to the civil conflicts, several consecutive years of reduced agricultural production and poorly functioning markets, especially for displaced populations, host families and returnees, fuelled by violent clashes and inter-communal tensions.Poor rains in Southern Africa at key cropping stages curbed this year’s cereal production, with the largest reductions reported in Malawi and Zimbabwe. In Malawi, with this year’s cereal output estimated to be below average, the number of food insecure people in 2018 could more than double from last year to reach 3.3 million people.In Zimbabwe, 2.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure in 2018 as a result of a reduced cereal output and food access constraints stemming from low incomes and liquidity problems of vulnerable households.The Near East region has also suffered from insufficient rains that have reduced cereal output particularly in Afghanistan and Syria. In Syria, around 6.5 million people are estimated to be short of food and another 4 million people are at risk of food insecurity, according to the report.Dry weather conditions in South America have lowered cereal output in 2018 from last year’s record, particularly for maize. In Central America and the Caribbean, unfavourable rains also curtailed this year’s maize production, except in Mexico, the report noted.In Far East Asia, cereal production in 2018 is forecast to rise, primarily reflecting gains in Bangladesh and India, with the latter seeing a record wheat output this year due to favourable weather conditions.Similarly, in Bangladesh, beneficial weather supported by prospects of remunerative prices triggered an expansion in paddy plantings that drove up cereal production in 2018, following reduced outputs last year.And as a result of beneficial weather, cereal harvests in East Africa are also forecast to rebound from the reduced levels of 2017; however, torrential rains earlier this year and more recently in August resulted in floods causing localised crop losses.The 39 countries currently in need of external food assistance are: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini (former Swaziland), Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.