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Updated On: Friday, 17 August 2018
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Security Council Should Play Greater Role in Breaking Link between Hunger, Conflict, Stresses Under-Secretary-General, World Food Programme Head

Content by: UN News Centre

The United Nations senior-most humanitarian official and the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) came together today to urge the Security Council to play a greater role in breaking the link between hunger and conflict, stating that in doing so, it would make a significant contribution to famine eradication and sustainable development.

Emphasizing the prospect of wiping out famine “within our lifetime”, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking via videoconference from Dublin, said almost two thirds of people living in hunger were in conflict-stricken countries.  Yemen, South Sudan and north-eastern Nigeria still faced severe levels of hunger, while the food security situation in Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was extremely worrying.

Council members had influence over parties to conflict, while the organ itself had the means to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, as well as the means to enhance accountability, he noted, adding that peace and political solutions would disrupt the cycle of conflict and hunger.  “This Council’s main responsibility is peace and international security,” he said.  “In other words, this Council can help prevent famine to ever occur again.”

David Beasley, the World Food Programme’s Executive Director, speaking via videoconference from Biel, Switzerland, elaborated on those points, saying that hunger was on the rise worldwide mostly because “people won’t stop shooting at each other”.  With terrorists using food as a weapon of recruitment and war, the United Nations, donors and Member States should use food as a weapon for reconstruction, peace and to bring people together.  He called on the Council to help end war, with the world facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the founding of the United Nations.  Unity should be a priority.  While differences often arose, they should not surface on all issues, he said, pressing the Council to make certain that funds and access were available for providing humanitarian support.

In the ensuing debate, representatives underscored the complex link between conflict and hunger, aggravated by such factors as climate change, and the importance of addressing root causes, including through the promotion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Several delegates called for better early-warning mechanisms that would enable the Secretary-General to expeditiously bring looming crises to the Council’s attention.  Many also emphasized respect for international humanitarian law, and for those hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to be held accountable for their actions.

The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Council President for March, speaking in her national capacity, said that in today’s world of abundance, technology and big data, famine was completely avoidable, and when it happened it was man-made.  “It occurs where people harm other people,” she said.

Recalling her recent visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, she cited a persistent failure of warring parties complying with rules, causing civilians in conflict to suffer.  Flouting the law of war not only turned norms into hollow phrases, but eroded the rules-based international order.  Outlining a framework for action, she called for guarantees for humanitarian access and action against violators of international law before stressing the importance of political solutions to bring an end to the suffering.

Ethiopia’s delegate, highlighting the need for Council unity, said securing humanitarian access was a major challenge that the 15-member organ had tried to tackle in the face of political differences.  He added that limited resources had impacted the role of peacekeeping missions, constraining their contribution to preventing conflict-induced food insecurity and hunger.

The representative of Kuwait said there was no moral justification for allowing people to die from hunger.  Early warnings from the Secretary-General would help guard against conflict-driven hunger, as well as prompt implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and compliance with international law.  Several measures could be taken by the Council, including the inclusion of civilian protection in peacekeeping mandates.  Emphasizing that conflict was man-made, he said preventative diplomacy was the best solution going forward.

Similarly, Kazakhstan’s representative said the capacity of the United Nations to prevent conflicts had to be strengthened, including through the implementation of the Secretary-General’s proposals in his report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.  He urged the Secretary-General and the Secretariat to alert the Council on worrying levels of food insecurity and hunger, citing that the early warning and swift humanitarian response in February 2017 avoided famine in Yemen, South Soudan, Somalia and north-east Nigeria.

The representative of the Russian Federation said there was a desire by some States to advance — in the Council and the media — the link between conflict and hunger, which was problematic as it relegated key drivers of food insecurity to the back burner, including global food price volatility, economic stagnation, a lack of investment, unfavourable weather, and weak progress in sustainable consumption and production.  He cautioned against populating the Council’s agenda with issues outside its purview.

Today’s meeting followed up on a letter from the Secretary-General to Member States on 21 February 2017 on hunger and conflict, and on a presidential statement on 9 August 2017 through which the Council expressed grave concern about the threat of famine facing Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria (see press release SC/12946).

Also speaking today were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Bolivia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Equatorial Guinea, United States, China, Poland and France.

The meeting began at 11:05 a.m. and ended at 1:02 p.m.

Briefings

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking via videoconference from Dublin, said it was possible to eradicate famine “within our lifetime”.  His briefing would touch upon ways that the Security Council could help achieve that goal.  Despite the wildest predictions, famines had become less frequent and less lethal in recent decades — an amazing achievement for several reasons.  First, a dramatic expansion in agricultural output and productivity had made food cheaper and more plentiful.  Transportation networks, better cold-chain technology, science and trade allowed food to be more consistently available.  “This trend is likely to continue,” he said.  Second, there had been a global reduction in poverty, a major achievement that would not have happened without international action and support.  However, the remaining risk of famine and hunger was concentrated in a relatively small number of countries affected by large-scale, severe and protracted conflict, he said, referring to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Union which confirmed that conflict — often conflated by extreme climate shock and high prices for staple foods — was the main driver of global food insecurity.

Almost two thirds of the world’s hungry people lived in countries in conflict, while almost 490 million undernourished people — including nearly 80 per cent of the world’s 155 million stunted children — lived in countries affected by conflict, he said.  Yemen, South Sudan and north-eastern Nigeria still faced severe levels of hunger, while the food security situation in Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was extremely worrying.  Sustained and expanded efforts were needed in those countries, with more funding and access, alongside joined-up humanitarian life-saving with longer-term development work.  International humanitarian law was designed to protect against hunger in armed conflict, and while parties to conflict bore the primary responsibility in that regard, all States had a duty to ensure that it was respected.  Council members had influence over parties to conflict, while the organ itself had the means to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, as well as the means to enhance accountability.  Emphasizing that there were no humanitarian solutions to conflict, he said peace and political solutions would disrupt the vicious cycle of conflict and hunger.  “This Council’s main responsibility is peace and international security,” he said.  “In other words, this Council can help prevent famine to ever occur again.”

DAVID BEASLEY, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP), speaking via videoconference from Biel, Switzerland, said that during his visits to more than 36 countries, “what I have seen is good news and bad news.”  As of 22 March, “we’re reporting extremely bad news”, he said, stressing that there should be no reason for hunger to persist in a world with $300 trillion in available wealth.  The hunger had grown, from 778 million people in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.  It was disturbing that while WFP had been able to avert famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria, there were three other countries on its brink.  Over the last three years, the number of people who were severely hungry had risen from 80 million in 2015 to 108 million in 2016, and to 124 million in 2017.

There had been a staggering 55 per cent increase in just two years, he said, nearly all because “people won’t stop shooting at each other”.  Man-made conflict drove extreme hunger.  “We can end world hunger by 2030 but not as long as there is conflict,” he said, stressing that 60 per cent of the world’s 815 million who were chronically hungry lived in a conflict zone.

If the world was unable to get ahead of the curve, studies had shown that in a country of 20 million experiencing conflict — such as Syria — for every 1 per cent increase in hunger there was a 2 per cent increase in migration, he said.  A displaced person would move up to four times in his or her country before leaving entirely.  The cost of feeding that person inside their country was $.50 per day (about double the normal cost, due to war); feeding that person outside their country cost €50 per day for total humanitarian support.

With Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) moving into the greater Sahel region and partnering with groups such as Al-Qaida, an area of 500 million people, he said the world could not afford to take an old approach to addressing hunger and conflict.  The question hinged on how to use development dollars more effectively to address conflict, as it was clearly related to development.

When working in better collaboration and cooperation, WFP fed almost 80 million people on any given day in the greater Sahel region, he continued.  In 2017 alone, of those people, more than 10 million had been involved in the Food Assistance for Assets programme.  With terrorists using food as a weapon of recruitment and war, the United Nations, donors and Member States should use food as a weapon for reconstruction, peace and to bring people together.  Such efforts were about making people resilient.  Mothers did not want to see their husbands join ISIL/Da’esh.  But with a girl or boy having gone hungry for two weeks, a husband often had no choice but to join.

Done effectively, food support allowed families to change their lives and minimized the impacts of extremist groups in fragile areas, he said.  He called on the Council to help end war, stressing that it now had the best chance to do so, with the world facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the founding of the United Nations.  Unity should be a priority.  While differences often arose, they should not surface on all issues, he said, pressing the Council to make certain that funds and access were available for providing humanitarian support.

Statements

SIGRID KAAG, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and Council President for the month, speaking in her national capacity, said that after decades of steady decline, hunger was once again on the rise.  Major famines in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria were directly threatening 20 million people and all had conflict in common.  In today’s world of abundance, technology and big data, famine was completely avoidable, and when it happened it was man-made.  “It occurs where people harm other people,” she said.  At the same time, conflict and hunger did not respect national borders, resulting in grave risks to regional stability.  Indeed, rising levels of conflict and hunger led to greater migration, putting severe pressure on host countries.  That that was happening in an age of unparalleled progress, technological possibilities and wealth was shameful.

Armed conflict affected food security, including parties of conflict deliberately denying civilians access to food aid, she continued.  Recalling her recent visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, she said the problem was a persistent failure of warring parties complying with rules, causing civilians in conflict to suffer.  Flouting the law of war not only turned norms into hollow phrases, but eroded the rules-based international order.  Outlining a framework for action, she called for guarantees for humanitarian access and action against violators of international law before stressing the importance of political solutions to bring an end to the suffering.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUÉ (Côte d’Ivoire) said that hardly a day went by without the United Nations and the Security Council being called upon to address starvation and food insecurity.  Emphasizing the link between armed conflict and hunger, he said pinpointing the root causes of conflict would make it possible to find lasting solutions and reduce the risk of food insecurity.  The United Nation must build on initiatives to promote the Sustainable Development Goals and prioritize the meeting of basic food needs, taking into account the empowerment of women.  Eradicating hunger was a collective responsibility that required pre-emptive action against all factors likely to spawn poverty, he said, expressing regret over the degree of military spending in conflict-plagued countries to the detriment of agriculture.  Drawing attention to the situation in the Lake Chad region and its 2.2 million displaced people, he said it was critical to strengthen the resilience of regional and State actors specifically in Africa, with stronger cooperation between States geared towards improving living standards.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said famine and extreme poverty were root causes of conflict, generating conditions which encouraged violent extremism and terrorism.  Children were particularly vulnerable, and women were often exposed to sexual blackmail for food.  Governance and accountability could prevent famine and build inclusive institutions, thus preventing conflict, he said, underscoring also the potential of labour-intensive agriculture and development.  He highlighted the importance of more coordinated action of the United Nations system, including humanitarian operations, the promotion of sustainable development and peacekeeping on the ground.  He added that the Council must respond firmly to restrictions on humanitarian access, which was a violation of international humanitarian law, and to the use of hunger as a weapon of war.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said slow and sudden-onset disasters, including from climate change impacts, were among the triggers of food insecurity and hunger.  As the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction outlined, disaster-induced hunger impacted a country’s overall development and required a development-oriented solution, enhanced by international cooperation.  Those issues should continue to be considered by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.  The Security Council’s focus should be limited to conflict-exacerbated hunger and food insecurity, the prevention of which would require addressing the causes of conflict, finding durable solutions and preventing relapse.  It must use all available tools in that regard, including engagement with regional and subregional organizations.  Securing humanitarian access was a major challenge which the 15-nation organ had tried to tackle, but political differences had obstructed action, highlighting the need for Council unity.  Also, the lack of or limited resources had impacted the role of peacekeeping missions, limiting their contribution to preventing conflict-induced food insecurity and hunger, an issue that required consideration.  The Council’s subsidiary bodies could help reduce and prevent such suffering, he said, stressing the importance of the principle of complementarity among United Nations bodies.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said millions risked food insecurity, especially in Africa and the Middle East, while the constant flow of forcibly displaced people and refugees had led to a break in production cycles and loss of livestock affecting the food supply.  That situation had been exacerbated, with parties to conflict imposing arbitrary restrictions on accessing ports, airports and other aid delivery points.  Assistance also had been a military target, which he condemned.  Famine in conflict areas was often due to a lack of political will among parties to resolve conflict.  He called on the Council to show a unanimous position in condemning campaigns of violence, stressing that breaking the cycle of war required the effective use of mediation, negotiation and conciliation and citing Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter as indispensable in that regard.  He described an FAO report on the global food crisis in that context, emphasizing that the Secretary-General’s report on humanitarian response should also be another important reference when designing conflict prevention mechanisms.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) highlighted the “undeniable” links between conflict and hunger, as the former was the main driver of food insecurity in the 18 countries where 60 per cent of those in acute need lived.  He highlighted the “perilous” situation for millions around the world, including in South Sudan where protracted conflict had led to a shocking rise in hunger and 7 million people needed humanitarian assistance.  In Somalia, violence and conflict combined with severe droughts continued to cause mass displacement, while in Yemen the disrupted and restricted delivery of humanitarian assistance was affecting 22.2 million people desperately in need.  He called for more decisive and long-term action from the Council, including working effectively to prevent conflicts and proactively addressing underlying risks.  The organ also had an important role in ensuring respect for international law, including rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need of such assistance.  Adequate and flexible funding was also essential for an effective and swift response, he said, calling on others to contribute as his country had to the Central Emergency Response Fund.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that, since the Secretary-General briefed the Council in 2017 on the issue, conflict-related hunger had increased worldwide, with the most vulnerable, including women and children, most affected.  Actions taken in the past year to address hunger were not enough, he said, emphasizing the need to address root causes.  Greater efforts must be made to prevent and resolve conflicts, as well as to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law.  A “new normal” was fast approaching whereby combatants felt they could attack markets, schools and hospitals with impunity.  Humanitarian access must also be actively safeguarded, with the Council playing a key role, insisting on the removal of restrictions on aid deliveries and ensuring accountability for violations.  The Council must also think creatively, considering for example the denial of humanitarian access as grounds for sanctions.  Noting that his country, as the third-largest humanitarian donor, was deeply engaged on the issue, he said the use of hunger as a weapon of war was unacceptable and that the consequences must be made abundantly clear.

TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) said there was no moral justification for allowing people to die from hunger.  Early warnings from the Secretary-General would help guard against conflict-driven hunger.  Prompt implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would contribute to preventing such hunger.  He added that compliance with international law was crucial to break the link between conflict and hunger.  Several measures could be taken by the Council in that regard, including the inclusion of civilian protection in peacekeeping mandates.  Emphasizing that conflict was man-made and a driver of misery, he said preventative diplomacy was the best solution, and that Kuwait was ready to work with others in international efforts to address conflict-related hunger around the world.

SERGEY B. KONONUCHENKO (Russian Federation) said that, as rightly noted in the WFP and FAO concept notes in August, armed conflict was the sole reason behind the growing numbers of hungry people worldwide.  Nonetheless, there was a desire by some countries to advance — in the Council and the media — the link between conflict and hunger, which was problematic as it relegated the following key drivers of food insecurity to the back burner:  global food price volatility, economic stagnation, a lack of investment, unfavourable weather, and weak progress in sustainable consumption and production.  Overlooking those factors was unjust.  The argument to focus on conflict had been put forward to fit the Council’s mandate, a desire that should be welcomed.  However, he objected to populating its agenda with issues outside its purview.  He had studied arguments about potential response measures and concluded that the issue’s generic consideration would not be productive.  Each conflict had specificities and blueprints for resolution.  Designing a universal formula to solve hunger was hardly possible in the Council.  All proposals boiled down to a confirmation of international humanitarian law, work that was already being undertaken in country-specific settings.  The Council must consider food insecurity only in the context of specific situations which threatened international peace and security, he said, noting that the objectives outlined for today’s discussion were being handled by other bodies.  The Russian Federation would continue support WFP, FAO and their partner organizations, in line with the humanitarian principles outlined in General Assembly resolution 46/182.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said that in Africa, where 60 per cent of people survived on agriculture, catastrophic events often affected sustainable development plans.  He expressed concern over the increased use of hunger in armed conflict, and that 11 per cent of the global population suffered from hunger in the twenty-first century, more than half of whom lived in armed conflict situations.  His country was working to end hunger, in line with its national “Horizon 2020” plan, and in the context of the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  Some 25 million people in Africa were hungry, he said, stressing that general conflicts continued to increase across the continent.  He strongly condemned the use of food access, humanitarian assistance and hunger as weapons of war.  The international community should ensure financing for the “zero hunger” agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals.  He condemned attacks against humanitarian personnel, stressing that protection of civilians required the Council to redouble efforts to find solutions through dialogue.  He endorsed the 9 August 2017 presidential statement in that regard.

KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said the link between hunger and armed conflict was undeniable.  People starved not because of drought, but because conflict prevented food from reaching them.  The Council could act to prevent civilians from starving.  She advocated an end to barbaric siege tactics and attacks that violated international humanitarian law, stressing that the links to international peace and security was an equally appropriate topic.  In Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad had used sieges to pummel opposition areas, denying food delivery to hundreds of thousands of civilians and cutting medicine supplies to eastern Ghouta.  “This is a barbaric tactic that any responsible member of this Council must condemn,” she said.  In Yemen, the world’s largest food emergency, life-saving commercial imports of food must be protected.  She welcomed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to expand such delivery there and looked forward to the plan’s expansion with humanitarian partners.  Regional Governments could bolster grass-roots support for the international humanitarian response by reassuring people they had a just and secure future in their home countries.  While conflict specificities might be different, human rights violations were consistently at their root.

DIDAR TEMENOV (Kazakhstan) expressed shock over the food insecurity statistics.  The increase of people affected by acute food insecurity was largely attributable to new or intensified conflicts combined with droughts and floods.  Unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment, as well as unsustainable use of land and water and exploitation of those natural resources, were aggravating factors.  Strengthening the connectivity between political solution and long-term development strategy was needed, through the implementation of development programmes in conflict areas, including investment in rural development and agriculture, natural resource management and social protection.  The capacity of the United Nations to prevent conflicts had to be strengthened, including through the implementation of the Secretary-General’s proposals in his report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.  He urged the Secretary-General and the Secretariat to alarm the Security Council on worrying levels of food insecurity and hunger, citing that the early warning and swift humanitarian response in February 2017 avoided famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north-east Nigeria.  The coordination within the United Nations and cooperation with regional and subregional entities, as well as with financial organizations, had to be enhanced.  Full, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access was needed, engaging the United Nations system, including peacekeeping missions and country teams, with the support of neighbouring countries and regional organizations along with donors, partners, civil society and local populations.

WU HAITAO (China) said the international community must promote inclusive and balanced development which benefited all, with the United Nations playing a coordinating role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Greater efforts must be made to resolve regional hot-spot issues, with the Organization, the Security Council and the international community acting with more urgency to find political solutions, in line with the United Nations Charter, and in assisting in national reconciliation.  In addition, all United Nations organs should perform their respective functions and observe their division of labour while coordinating their work, he said, with the Council focusing on peace and security and FAO and WFP carrying out food aid and humanitarian activities.  He also underscored the role of regional organizations, and noted that China had been actively helping other developing countries towards eradicating poverty and ending hunger.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), quoting a South African proverb, said abundance did not spread, but famine did.  Hunger was on the rise, with food insecurity expected to deteriorate further.  Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity were largely the result of conflict, with many affected populations living in rural areas.  The link between conflict and hunger was complex, requiring a comprehensive response and a collaborative approach, she said.  Emphasizing Poland’s strong commitment to work with the Secretary-General to explore all avenues to resolving conflict, she said the Council needed early warning of food insecurity, hunger and escalating conflict in order to ensure early action.  Underscoring the right to food as a core human right, she said the importance of respect for international humanitarian law could not be stressed enough.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), emphasizing that using hunger as a weapon of war could be a war crime, and citing situations in Yemen, Myanmar, Iraq and Syria, said the Council must steadfastly shoulder its responsibilities vis-à-vis hunger and conflict.  Violations of international humanitarian law, including attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel, could not go unpunished.  Recalling a recent appeal from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for a “protection surge”, she said early warning systems could be strengthened, with famine indicators being included in the Secretary-General’s reports on peacekeeping operations and country situations.  She also emphasized the need for greater coordination between humanitarian assistance and development, adding that the Council had a moral obligation to do better when it came to hunger and conflict.

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