Protection of Civilians: Conflict and Hunger
Expected Council Action
In April, the Council plans to hold a briefing on the protection of civilians from hunger during armed conflict. Possible briefers are Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley (who, however, announced on 19 March that he had contracted COVID-19), Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Qu Dongyu, and Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland. The Council may adopt a presidential statement.
Key Recent Developments
Recent years have seen the Council increase its consideration of the link between conflict and hunger. In 2017, the threat of famine in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, which the Secretary-General had warned member states could occur without decisive action, prompted two briefings and an Arria-formula meeting on the crises. A Council presidential statement deplored the failure of certain parties in these conflicts to ensure unfettered and sustained access for deliveries of vital food assistance and other aid. It also called on member states to provide resources and funding to avert famine.
During the Netherlands’ presidency in March 2018, a Council briefing considered more broadly the rising trend in food insecurity and conflict, considered to be the main driver of hunger in 18 countries, according to a joint report of the EU, FAO and WFP at the time. The session also sought to raise awareness of international laws and norms to protect civilian populations from hunger and food insecurity during war.
Two months later, on 24 May 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2417, which “recalls the link between armed conflict and violence and conflict-induced food insecurity and the threat of famine”. The resolution strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and urged all parties to protect civilian infrastructure critical to the delivery of aid and to ensure the proper functioning of food systems. Resolution 2417 further requested the Secretary-General to report swiftly to the Council when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict and to brief every 12 months on the resolution’s implementation in the context of his annual briefing on the protection of civilians.
Since the adoption of resolution 2417, OCHA has sought to alert the Council to risks of famine in conflict situations, including by sending a white paper on unprecedented levels of hunger and malnutrition in South Sudan in July 2018. Council members then convened consultations in August 2018 on food security in South Sudan and in press elements after the meeting demanded that all parties allow unhindered humanitarian access. Similarly, an OCHA white paper alerted the Council to the renewed risk of famine facing Yemen in October 2018 ahead of a Council briefing on that country’s humanitarian crisis. During the briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock warned of “a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen—much bigger than anything that any professionals in this field have seen during their working lives”, and outlined five priorities that he called for the Council to support to prevent this possibility. In December 2018, the first Yemeni peace talks in over two years led to the Stockholm Agreement, which averted a battle for the port city of Hodeidah, through which Yemen imports much of its food and other critical supplies.
Starting in January 2019, the Dominican Republic and Germany have co-hosted informal briefings for members to remain updated on conflict-induced hunger trends by discussing the bi-annual reports prepared by the WFP and FAO, titled Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations—a joint FAO/WFP update for the members of the United Nations Security Council. The most recent edition, the seventh in the series, was issued in January and circulated to members by the Dominican Republic. It spotlights Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Haiti, the Lake Chad Basin, central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), Somalia and South Sudan. (The report notes that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Sudan and Yemen are not covered because there was no updated acute food insecurity data.)
Key Issues and Options
Key issues include obstacles to humanitarian access and ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law. Other factors that contribute to hunger in conflict are threats to or attacks on food sources—such as infrastructure for delivering food and insecurity from fighting that hinders access to farmland—and high food prices. Underlying fragilities, such as climate change, underdevelopment and poverty, make some countries in conflict more vulnerable to hunger crises.
A presidential statement could recall messages from resolution 2417, including that the Council can and has sanctioned individuals or entities obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including access to or distribution of such assistance.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Maintaining Council attention to conflict-induced hunger has been an important issue for the Dominican Republic. This is reflected by its role in organising the informal briefings for members on food insecurity in conflict situations, hitherto held in January and September 2019 and January 2020. Some members, in particular Russia, continue to have concerns about the Council taking up as a thematic issue food insecurity and hunger, which can have numerous causes and which the Council already addresses when it arises in country situations under discussion. Elected members have taken the lead on previous Council products on conflict and hunger, though with support from the P3. Sweden was penholder on the August 2017 presidential statement, and resolution 2417, adopted unanimously in May 2018, was put forward by Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Sweden.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT AND HUNGER
|Security Council Resolution|
|24 May 2018S/RES/2417||This was a resolution on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity. It strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|9 August 2017S/PRST/2017/14||This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.|
|Security Council Letter|
|22 January 2020S/2020/62||This letter circulated the seventh joint FAO/WFP update for Council members on food security in countries with conflict situations.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 October 2018S/PV.8379||Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen focusing on the rising threat of famine that has the potential to affect up to 14 million people, according to the latest UN estimates.|
|23 March 2018S/PV.8213||This was a briefing on conflict and hunger in which Netherlands Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag chaired the session.|
|12 October 2017S/PV.8069||Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the Council on “country-specific impediments to an effective response to the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria”.|
|10 March 2017S/PV.7897||This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.|