Food Security - Security Council VTC Open Debate

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11-Mar-2021 02:34:34
Already up 20 per cent, acute hunger driven by conflict, instability risks increasing further due to climate change, COVID-19, Secretary-General warns Security Council.

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United Nations Food Agencies Ask for $5.5 Billion to Avoid Multiple Famines Worldwide

The world is facing multiple conflict-driven famines, aggravated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and without immediate action, millions of people — from the Sahel to Afghanistan — could well find themselves on the brink of extreme hunger and death this year, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, warned the Security Council today.

His dire warning — delivered at the start of a videoconference Council debate on conflict-induced food insecurity — came as the United Nations’ two leading food-related entities — the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — are appealing for the emergency mobilization of $5.5 billion to help 34 million people who are facing emergency levels of food insecurity worldwide.

“Today, I have one simple message: if you don’t feed people, you feed conflict,” the Secretary-General told the Council, emphasizing how conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. At the end of 2020, more than 88 million people were suffering from acute hunger due to conflict and instability, up 20 per cent from a year earlier, and projections for 2021 indicate that that frightening trend will continue, with climate shocks and the global COVID-19 pandemic adding fuel to the flames, he said.

Elaborating, he said that hunger crises are escalating and spreading across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and accelerating in South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan. More than 30 million people in more than three dozen countries are one step away from famine, with women and girls facing the double risk of forced displacement and malnutrition whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. He expressed deep concern about the situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, where insecurity and violence are disrupting the harvest season.

“In some countries, famine is already here,” he said, with parts of Yemen, South Sudan and Burkina Faso in the grip of famine or conditions akin to famine, and more than 150,000 people at risk of starving. In Yemen, where 16 million people face food insecurity, half of all children under the age of five are projected to suffer acute malnutrition this year. In South Sudan, 60 per cent of the population is increasingly hungry and food prices are so high that a plate of rice and beans costs more than 180 per cent of the average daily salary — the equivalent of about $400 in New York. Last year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced the world’s worst food crisis as 21.8 million people faced acute hunger between July and December 2020, he said.

“We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to reverse these trends, starting by preventing famine,” he said, announcing his decision to launch a High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine. Led by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and including representatives from WFP and FAO, the Task Force will aim to bring coordinated high-level attention to famine prevention and mobilize support for the hardest-hit countries. The Secretary-General urged Council members to support the Task Force, which will cooperate with non-governmental organizations and work with international financial institutions and other specialized United Nations agencies, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Of immediate concern are the more than 34 million people who are facing emergency levels of acute food security, with WFP and FAO appealing for $5.5 billion in extraordinary resources to respond to their plight, he said. However, while all national economies are feeling the strain of COVID-19, “the solution does not lie in cutting aid to starving children”. Earmarking relatively small amounts of money for humanitarian aid is an investment not only in people, but also in peace. He went on to stress the need for unimpeded humanitarian access in conflict areas and the prohibition of starvation as a tactic of war. The latter is a war crime, he said, urging the Council to do its utmost to seek accountability for such atrocious acts and to remind parties to conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law.

“I urge all States to make ending conflict — and not simply mitigating its impact — a key foreign policy priority,” he said, calling on Council members to use its privileged position to end violence, negotiate peace and alleviate hunger and suffering. “There is no place for famine in the twenty-first century,” he added.

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said that many of the countries at risk of famine three years ago, when the Council adopted resolution 2417 (2018), are in the same position today — and several others have joined them. “People in these areas are not starving; they are being starved,” and it makes little difference to them whether their plight is due to deliberate action or to callous negligence on the part of conflict parties and the international community. Sharing the stories of individuals living amidst hunger in Yemen, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the Central Africa Republic, she called on the Council to make good on its unanimous agreement to break the vicious cycle of conflict and food insecurity.

Setting out a set of recommendations, she said that the Council should deepen its work on conflict and hunger “with a clear commitment to action”. In doing so, it should agree on depoliticized criteria to facilitate regular and mandatory reporting on those situations with a risk of conflict-induced famine or food insecurity. The Council must take genuine action to support the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 15-member body should condemn the use of starvation as a weapon of war, the targeting of critical food infrastructure and restrictions on humanitarian access. It should also create meaningful accountability for starvation crimes.

In addition, the Council should endorse — and its members lead — the effort to fulfil the global appeal for $5.5 billion to meet additional needs to avert famine, especially in light of the pandemic, she said. To be effective, that aid must flow as directly and urgently as possible to local organizations, especially those led by women. It should also endorse a “people’s vaccine” for COVID-19 that is free and accessible to all, with rich nations unlocking global supply constraints to make vaccines available to all those who need it.

She went on to say that starvation is a symptom of a deeper problem in a world in which eight of the biggest food and beverage companies distributed more than $18 billion to shareholders in 2020. That is more than three times what is being sought today to avert catastrophe. “There is not a lack of food; there is a lack of equality,” she said, adding that peace is not just about the absence of war, but also the ability to live in dignity and to flourish, with employment, a home and stable, affordable food prices.

David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, recalled that, in 2020, when he warned that armed conflict, climate change and the pandemic threatened to push 270 million people to the brink of starvation, a famine of biblical proportions was averted. Today, however, the world is sliding back towards the edge of the abyss and “the concerns of 2020 are really the concerns of 2021”. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is poised to become the world’s largest hunger emergency, with 19.6 million people affected, up from 15.6 million in 2020. In Afghanistan, the number is nearly 17 million, up from 13.9 million; in Nigeria, 13 million, up from 5 million. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the war in Syria, more than 12 million people face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, an all-time high.

“Make no mistake: man-made conflict is the real culprit,” he said. Discussing his visit to Yemen this week, against a backdrop of 50-kilogramme bags of WFP white beans, he said the country is “hell on earth right now” and well on the way to becoming the biggest famine in modern times. There, more than 16 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, and approximately 400,000 children may die without urgent intervention. One mother he met sold her last canister of cooking gas to make the journey to a hospital to get help for her young daughter, who sadly died one and a half days ago.

Turning to the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which he visited in February, he said that the United Nations has substantially improved access for humanitarian workers and supplies following detailed negotiations with the Government of Ethiopia. “But the real work is only just beginning,” he said, estimating that 3 million people in Tigray need food assistance that must be met through an urgent increase in funding. Pointing to South Sudan, where 7.2 million people face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, the situation is so desperate that children are being fed mud and the skin of diseased dead animals.

“So, when I ask Security Council ministers to provide $5.5 billion immediately to avoid multiple famines around the world, I urge you to open up your hearts, show compassion and give — and give generously,” he said. The financial cost of conflict, let alone the human cost, is about $14.5 trillion, based on 2019 figures, yet it would take a fraction of that amount to fund development programmes that could change lives in war-scarred nations and lay new pathways to peace. “Please don’t ask us to choose which starving child lives and which one dies,” he said. “Let’s feed them all.”

In the ensuing debate, Council members recalled their unanimous adoption of resolution 2417 (2018), on 24 May 2018, through which the 15-member organ drew attention to the link between armed conflict and conflict‑induced food insecurity and the threat of famine and condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war. They underscored the impact of COVID-19 in war zones and echoed the Secretary‑General’s call, made on 23 March 2020, for a global ceasefire in response to the pandemic. Some questioned, however, whether the Council — with its mandate to protect international peace and security — was the appropriate forum to discuss food security issues.

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