Dire food insecurity in many conflict-affected countries requires both urgent action from the Security Council to prevent and end the violence and increased humanitarian funding from the international community in order to avert catastrophic famine for millions of people, senior United Nations officials told the 15-member organ today.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recalled that the Council asked to be informed when the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity occurs. “That risk is now upon us,” he reported. Widespread suffering was a result of the direct and indirect impacts of conflict and violence — along with the behaviour of the fighting parties. In the most extreme cases, such actors deliberately cut off access to the commercial supplies and essential services on which civilians rely to survive. “Hunger is used as a tactic of war,” he stressed.
Providing a brief overview of the bleak situations in Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and north-east Nigeria — where a total of approximately 43 million people face high levels of food insecurity — he offered several suggested actions for Member States to take. These include pursuing peaceful, negotiated resolutions to conflict and supporting the economies of countries facing severe, large-scale hunger, among others. Further, these countries receive little — if any — funding for climate adaptation and mitigation. He called on Member States to ensure this funding reaches the most vulnerable places as a matter of priority. “Time is not on our side,” he stressed.
Máximo Torero, Chief Economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), underscored that conflict impacts every aspect of agrifood systems, reducing food production, destroying crops, disrupting markets and restricting access to food. In the long term, it leads to complete loss of livelihoods, mass displacements and decreased resilience, among others. Detailing the dire food security situations in Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, northern Nigeria and Yemen, he pointed out that: “When the Council speaks, the world listens.” Preventing conflict is the most effective means of preventing famine. “It is essential that we act now to minimize the calamities,” he stressed.
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that up to 345 million people are “marching towards starvation” in the 82 countries where the WFP currently operates, and of those, 50 million people living in 45 countries are “knocking on famine’s door”. Echoing previous assessments of the bleak situations in Ethiopia, north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, he urged the Council to “show the leadership the world needs right now” and help facilitate political solutions to end these wars. Recalling his April 2020 warning that the world was facing “famines of biblical proportions”, he stressed that “we are on the edge once again”. “The hungry people of the world are counting on us,” he added, “and we must not let them down.”
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members expressed concern over food insecurity in Ethiopia, north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, calling for peaceful solutions to armed conflict and welcoming the Black Sea Grain Initiative’s impact on lowering global food prices, while others stressed that Russian fertilizer must also be able to reach global markets. Some also stressed the need to take a more long-term approach, urging efforts to address underlying causes of food insecurity and build resilience in vulnerable countries.
On that point, the representative of Brazil, who, along with Ireland, requested this meeting, stressed the need to break the perverse cycle formed by conflict and food insecurity that traps people in a spiral of degrading living conditions. Efforts were needed to eradicate historical trade-distortive practices. While donor countries must ensure that no humanitarian agency needs to choose between the hungry and the starving, he also urged all Member States to increase their efforts in providing technical capacity and technology.
Ireland’s representative, also pointing out that United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations are being forced to take food from the hungry to feed the starving, stressed that this is a “damning indictment of the state of food insecurity globally, and of this Council’s response to conflict-induced hunger”. Humanitarian assistance is essential, but it is not the answer to this scourge, he stressed. Rather, the solution is peace, which means putting pressure on the parties to conflict to come to the table.
The representative of Kenya said, however, that, while food insecurity may be most acute in conflict-affected countries, it is a broader phenomenon. He therefore urged relevant States, regional bodies and United Nations entities to refocus on Sustainable Development Goal 2 on zero hunger. Further, there is sufficient evidence that the climate crisis aggravates conflict. The Council needs to heed the call by countries in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa to link climate action with the peacekeeping and political missions of the United Nations.
Similarly, the representative of the United Arab Emirates called on the international community to help combat climate change by prioritizing investments in early warning systems, anticipatory action and agricultural resilience. Recalling that her country has consistently advocated for taking more unconventional drivers of conflict into account, she said the Council would be better able to take preventative action to address worsening security and humanitarian situations if it received regular updates on risk factors in fragile settings.
Also addressing the Council was Italy’s representative, who stressed that the international community must maintain open food chains and transition towards sustainable, climate-smart and resilient food systems. “Rural people and local actors must be put back at the centre of these processes,” he stressed.
Also speaking were the representatives of China, Mexico, Norway, India, Russian Federation, Gabon, Albania, United States, Ghana, United Kingdom and France.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:16 p.m.