Conflict and Food Security
Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on conflict and food security as a signature event of the US Council presidency.
Background and Key Recent Developments
May will mark the fourth anniversary of the Council’s adoption of resolution 2417 on 24 May 2018. The resolution identified how conflict contributes to hunger—through the direct effects of war, such as displacement from farming or grazing land and the destruction of agricultural assets, or indirectly by disrupting markets and increasing food prices, among other things. The resolution called on conflict parties to comply with relevant international law, including the Geneva Conventions, condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare, and recalled that the Council has adopted and can consider adopting new sanctions on those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance.
The Council adopted resolution 2417 amid a resurgence in global food insecurity, primarily being driven by conflict. This trend has continued. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of people experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, in which conflict was the primary factor, increased from 73 million to 139 million, according to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Chief Economist Máximo Torero Cullen. He provided that statistic when he briefed Council members at a 21 April Arria-formula meeting on conflict and hunger, organised by Ireland. The 139 million people facing acute hunger due to conflict in 2021 was an increase from 99 million in 2020 and represented about three-quarters of the 193 million people experiencing acute food insecurity from all causes last year.
This year is forecast to be the most food-insecure on record globally. A 26 January FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) report on “Hunger Hotspots”, which provided an outlook for the period from February to May, noted that Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen are at the highest alert levels, with parts of their populations identified as experiencing or projected to experience starvation. It warned that acute food insecurity is likely to worsen in 20 countries and cited Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Syria, and the Sahel region, especially the Central Sahel, as situations of particular concern. Organised violence is the primary driver of hunger in most of these places. The DRC has the largest number of people projected to face acute food insecurity (approximately 26 million), followed by Afghanistan (22.8 million) and Nigeria (18.1 million people, of whom 100,000 are at risk of starvation).
The effects of the war in Ukraine on the global food system have further exacerbated food insecurity. Russia and Ukraine are among the most important producers of agricultural commodities and, in the case of Russia, of fertilisers. A 25 March FAO information note said that the war raises concern about the loss of farmland in Ukraine and access to the Black Sea for Ukrainian exports. It also highlights uncertainty over Russian exports because of the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow. Further complicating the situation, as the note underlines, is that many low-income countries, including conflict-affected countries, are highly dependent on imports of foodstuffs and fertilisers from Russia and Ukraine. Torero Cullen observed during last month’s Arria-formula meeting that food prices reached historical highs in March in real and nominal terms, and the situation will affect next season’s agricultural productivity because of reduced access to and higher prices for fertilisers.
Resolution 2417 called on the Secretary-General to report to the Council swiftly when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict and to update the Council on the resolution’s implementation every 12 months during his annual briefing on the protection of civilians. Since its adoption, OCHA has sought to alert the Council to such situations on several occasions by submitting “white notes” to the Council on conflict-induced hunger and the risk of famine. The notes raised these concerns about South Sudan in August 2018; Yemen in October 2018; the DRC, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen in September 2020; and the Tigray region of Ethiopia in May 2021. These notes prompted Council meetings on South Sudan (under “any other business” in closed consultations) and on Yemen, as well as a wide-ranging discussion on situations of conflict-induced hunger in September 2020 and an informal interactive dialogue on Tigray.
The latest formal Council meeting on conflict and hunger occurred in March 2021 as a high-level open debate, also under the US presidency. Resolution 2573, adopted at a 27 April 2021 debate on the protection of critical civilian infrastructure in conflict, recalled from resolution 2417 that conflict parties should ensure the proper functioning of food systems and markets in situations of armed conflict.
In addition, the Council focal points on conflict-induced hunger have organised two informal meetings a year for Council members to consider the bi-annual FAO-WFP joint reports on “Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations”. Ireland, which is the current focal point, is planning the next meeting on the report during May.
Key Issues and Options
The worsening trend in conflict-induced hunger and identifying existing or potential conflict-related food security crises are key issues for the Council. Related to this is the Council’s responsibility to maintain humanitarian access, protect aid workers and hold conflict parties accountable for depriving civilians of food or targeting food production and systems. As recalled in resolution 2417, the Council may impose sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of, access to, or distribution of humanitarian assistance.
The impact of the Ukraine war on food insecurity is another prominent issue. This includes the war’s effects on Ukraine’s agricultural productivity and exports and the possible consequences for the global food system of the sanctions imposed on Russia.
Factors contributing to hunger that are often present in conflict situations—such as economic shocks, including the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change—are also prominent issues.
An additional key issue is reporting to the Council on situations of food insecurity. Despite worsening conflict-induced food insecurity, the last OCHA white note was sent almost a year ago, while the Secretary-General’s reporting on the implementation of resolution 2417 in his annual protection of civilians report tends to be limited to a page or less.
Council members could request the Secretariat to submit white notes more regularly on conflict-induced hunger. Related to this is whether the information is sufficiently detailed for the Council to take action: members could encourage the Secretariat to provide more information that identifies conflict parties and violations of international humanitarian law that cause food insecurity. Members could also consider supporting a proposal to create a UN special envoy or a focal point on the implementation of resolution 2417. Such an envoy or focal point could provide the Council with reports outlining the complex and systemic nature of food insecurity in conflict situations to promote holistic responses.
Several members are keen to see the Council be more active in considering and addressing conflict-induced hunger. Council members France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the UK, and the US are part of a 12-member Group of Friends of Action on Conflict and Hunger. The group also includes recent Council members Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Niger, and Sweden.
Other members have expressed scepticism about the Council’s consideration of conflict and hunger. Russia has argued that the Council is not the appropriate body to consider food insecurity as a thematic issue since other UN organs are mandated to address hunger, which can have multiple causes. Some members have also been wary that the issue of hunger could be a pretext for adding situations to the Council’s agenda.
There are also differences over the reporting that the Council should receive from the Secretariat on hunger and conflict. Last year, the Council failed to agree on a US-proposed presidential statement for the March 2021 debate that would have requested two Secretary-General’s reports a year on hunger and conflict, as some members felt that the current reporting structures were adequate. At the April Arria-formula meeting, the US called on OCHA to provide two white notes per year on the issue.
Another more recent dynamic is members’ diverging views about the role of the Ukraine war on global hunger. Some members highlight Russia’s responsibility for having invaded Ukraine, while Russia points to the negative effect of unilateral sanctions. The US has stressed that the sanctions on Russia do not include food and agricultural products.
Ireland is the Council’s focal point on conflict and hunger. Until this year, two elected members served jointly as focal points. However, no Council members have come forward to replace Niger, which departed the Council at the end of last year.
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|
|29 April 2020S/PRST/2020/6||This was a presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger following up on measures laid out in resolution 2417, with an additional element on early warning systems.|
|Security Council Letters|
|6 December 2021S/2021/1011||This letter from Ireland and Niger circulated the ninth joint FAO/WFP update on “monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations.”|
|16 March 2021S/2021/250||This contained the record of briefings and statements at the Council’s 11 March 2021 VTC open debate on conflict and food security.|