Expected Council Action
In keeping with the Security Council’s August presidential statement on famine, a Secretariat official is expected to provide in October “an oral briefing…on country-specific impediments to an effective response to the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria and to make specific recommendations on how to address these impediments”. No immediate Council outcome is anticipated.
Key Recent Developments
On 21 February, the Secretary-General sent a letter to UN member states highlighting the global food crisis and the risk of famine in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. He noted that without decisive action over 20 million people in these countries faced the risk of famine within six months. While maintaining that the UN and its partners had “comprehensive programmes, clear strategic plans…and strong teams on the ground”, he underscored the importance of “further voluntary contributions…to meet the unprecedented scale of needs across the globe”.
On 10 March, then-Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on the visit he had recently completed to Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia—countries that he described as “facing, or at risk of, famine”—and on the outcome of the 24 February Oslo donor conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin. O’Brien told the Council that the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the UN’s establishment. He commended donors who had pledged a total of $672 million for humanitarian aid at the Oslo conference and urged others to contribute as well.
Several Council members—Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, the UK and the US—co-hosted an Arria-formula meeting on 16 June on the risk of famine in conflict-affected areas in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria that was open to the wider UN membership, civil society and the media. It featured briefings by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Franck Bousquet, senior director of the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group of the World Bank; and Andrea Tamburini, CEO of the NGO Action Against Hunger. During the meeting, discussion highlighted the hindrance of relief efforts due to access constraints caused by ongoing violence and restrictions imposed by belligerents, as well as shortages in humanitarian financing.
Following the Arria-formula meeting, Sweden prepared a draft presidential statement to cover key points from the session and further actions, with input from the other co-conveners. After several weeks of negotiations, the presidential statement was adopted on 9 August. It expressed grave concern about the “unprecedented level of global humanitarian needs and the threat of famine presently facing more than 20 million people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria”. The statement noted that ongoing armed conflict and violence are a major cause of famine in these situations. It reiterated the Council’s calls on all parties to allow safe, timely and unhinderedaccess for humanitarian assistance and to facilitate access for essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies into each country and for their distribution.
On 21 September, OCHA and the World Bank co-hosted a high-level event on famine prevention and response on the margins of the General Assembly General Debate. During the meeting, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that since his call for action in February to respond to the threat of famine in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, 60 percent of the $4.9 billion needed for urgent humanitarian operations had been received. However, he added, people’s needs in each of these countries had increased, more funding was required, and efforts needed to be made to influence the parties to conflict to allow for safe humanitarian access.
Key Issues and Options
A major issue for the Council is that the humanitarian needs in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, largely generated by conflict, remain significant. While the famine declared in Unity State in South Sudan earlier this year was halted, severe food insecurity continues to face some six million South Sudanese. Millions of people also continue to be at risk of famine in north-east Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.
Since the Secretary-General is expected to provide specific recommendations on how to address impediments to effective responses to the risk of famine in these four situations, the most likely option for the Council is to wait for the briefing and to consider how to respond to his recommendations.
Another important issue is how to create synergies between the work of the Council and other UN entities addressing famine in conflict-affected areas. This issue could be raised in the informal expert group on the protection of civilians, for which OCHA serves as the lead within the UN system, under the broader context of improving humanitarian access. Members could also hold another Arria-formula meeting on the risk of famine in conflict-affected areas, to take stock of how the UN and humanitarian organisations have addressed food insecurity in the relevant conflict-affected countries since the 16 June meeting, explore best practices and shortcomings in their approaches, and develop strategies for the way forward.
The humanitarian impacts of conflicts have long been a major focus of the Council’s work and are especially relevant today given the enormous global needs. However, dynamics on the relationship between conflict and famine are complex. Although the link between conflict and famine is a widespread concern, asserting this causality in the Council is sensitive to some members, as factors other than conflict and not related to maintaining peace and security, such as drought and poverty, also contribute to famine. For example, during the negotiations on the 9 August presidential statement, Russia expressed concern about whether famine was an appropriate issue for the Council and was uncomfortable with the initiative to pursue the presidential statement. This created a temporary impasse in the negotiations. However, Russia agreed to reengage on the draft statement after the UK and the US suggested that instead of a presidential statement—which requires consensus to be adopted—they would seek a resolution and thus compel Russia to either abstain or veto.
UN Documents on Famine
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|9 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/14||This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 August 2017 S/PV.8020||The Council adopted a presidential statement expressing its grave concern about the threat of famine presently facing more than 20 million people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and north-east Nigeria.|
|10 March 2017 S/PV.7897||This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.|