Conflict and Food Insecurity
Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to hold a high-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity. This is a signature event of the US Council presidency that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will chair. The Expected briefers are UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator Reena Ghelani; Navyn Salem, the founder and CEO of Edesia—a non-profit that combats malnutrition; and President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband.
Key Recent Developments
This year’s annual report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians, dated 12 May, included a focus on the impact of conflict on food and water availability. According to the report, more than a quarter of a billion people faced acute hunger in 58 countries and territories in 2022. Conflict and violence were the most significant drivers of high levels of acute food insecurity for approximately 117 million people in 19 countries and territories, including the Central African Republic, the Central Sahel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Causes of conflict-induced food insecurity in these and other conflict situations included direct harm to food and water sources and impediments to food and water production, delivery, and access.
The report also cited key factors that have compounded hunger in the past year. These include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which has exacerbated food insecurity worldwide. Ukraine and Russia are among the leading global suppliers of foodstuffs, with Russia also being a top exporter of fertilisers; many countries that depended on these supplies were adversely affected in the past year, including Burkina Faso, the DRC, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. Trade disruptions due to the war in Ukraine contributed to historically high food and fertiliser prices, aggravating food insecurity across the globe. Climate change—which was manifested in droughts, heavy rainfall, and floods—also exacerbated hunger in several conflicts, according to the report.
On 8 June, OCHA sent Council members a white note on food security risks in Burkina Faso, the DRC and Haiti. OCHA submitted the note in accordance with resolution 2417 of May 2018, which requested the Secretary-General to report swiftly when “the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread food insecurity” occurs. The white note highlighted that armed conflict and violence are the primary drivers of acute hunger in these three countries, affecting 32.9 million people, including 5.5 million people facing emergency conditions. The note observed that although similar factors exist elsewhere, conflict and violence are causing rapid deterioration in these three countries. Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on the white note on 28 July, receiving briefings by OCHA Assistant Secretary-General Joyce Msuya, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Director of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience Rein Paulsen, and World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau. Representatives of Burkina Faso and Haiti also participated.
On 17 July, Russia announced that it would suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea since August 2022 and has been considered key to keeping global food prices stable. The agreement was set to expire at midnight that day after a two-month extension on 17 May. In announcing the decision, Russia cited a lack of progress in resolving five barriers that it says obstruct the export of Russian agricultural products to international markets. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 July.)
In other developments, Spain, the US, the EU, the AU, Colombia, Germany, Indonesia, and Nigeria co-hosted the Global Food Security Summit on 20 September 2022 in New York. A summit declaration underscored the need to respond to immediate humanitarian needs and to build more resilient agricultural and food systems along seven specific lines of action, including providing additional donor support for humanitarian organisations and strengthening agricultural productivity, particularly in the most affected countries, to build resilience and support domestic production.
On 29 November 2022, the Secretary-General appointed Ghelani as the UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator. The newly created position, according to the UN, will be based in Nairobi and will lead and organise a cohesive system-wide response to rising food insecurity, drought and famine.
Key Issues and Options
The open debate will spotlight the scale of current levels of conflict-driven food insecurity. A key issue, according to the concept note that the US has circulated for the debate, is to identify opportunities to strengthen, coordinate and elevate efforts by the UN and its implementing partners, member states, civil society, and the private sector to strengthen global food systems and prevent future famines to reduce conflict. In this regard, the concept note sets out the following series of guiding questions that participants may address:
- how can the international community better align anticipatory actions to prevent severe hunger driven by conflict and climate change;
- what kind of investments can best tackle the root causes of conflict-induced food security that may result in famine;
- how can member states enhance collaboration and accountability to increase access to civilians requiring assistance during conflict, particularly children under five and women and girls;
- how has the Council succeeded in catalysing global efforts to prevent severe hunger and malnutrition in conflict, and what are best practices that can be scaled and replicated moving forward; and
- what more can the Council do to minimise the effects of conflict and climate in worsening global food insecurity and famines?
While not mentioned in the concept note, the recent failure to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the impact of the Ukraine war on global food insecurity are likely to be prominent issues.
A recurring issue is the question of the adequacy of UN reporting to the Council on conflict-induced food insecurity, considering its current scale. This year’s protection of civilians report contained, for the first time, a more detailed focus on the impact of armed conflict on hunger, while OCHA has submitted six white notes to the Council on various conflict-driven food crises since resolution 2417 was adopted in 2018.
The Council may adopt a presidential statement, which the US has proposed in connection with the open debate. Such a statement could highlight the importance of cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations in preventing famine and conflict-induced hunger, and request that the Secretary-General include recommendations for preventing famine in conflict situations in his regular country and regional reporting to the Council. UN member states may also sign on to a communiqué that the US is proposing on the open debate.
The impact of conflict on food insecurity has been a high-priority issue for the US. During its Council presidencies in March 2021 and May 2022, the US also convened ministerial-level open debates on conflict and food security. The US has frequently raised concerns that the UN is not keeping the Council sufficiently informed about conflict-driven food insecurity. At the Council debate on 23 May on the protection of civilians, US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield repeated this view: “We are not getting all the information we need. The white notes the Council receives are irregular. Too often they are delayed. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we receive the white notes of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs twice a year … That could depoliticize the issue and ensure that we have timely information to act on”. In 2021, the US proposed a presidential statement that would have requested two Secretary-General’s reports a year on hunger and conflict, but the Council failed to adopt the statement, largely over some members’ views that current reporting structures were adequate.
Russia has repeatedly 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. The Council’s African members often worry that the issue creates a pretext to bring to the Council’s attention countries that are not on its formal agenda. For instance, African members objected in 2021 to holding a Council meeting on a white note about the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia; eventually an IID was held. More recently, African Council members raised concerns about having a Council meeting on the 8 June white note because of the focus on the situation in Burkina Faso, which is not a formal Council agenda item: this, too, led to the discussion taking the form of an IID.
Brazil and Switzerland are the Council focal points on conflict and food security. Since the creation of this role in 2019, the focal points have organised Council discussions on the white notes and informal meetings of Council members to consider the FAO/WFP biannual updates on “monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations.”
UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT AND FOOD SECURITY
|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 Letter|
|26 July 2023S/2023/560||This was the concept note for the US-organized open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity, held on 3 August 2023.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 May 2023S/PV.9327||This was the meeting record from the first half of the Council’s annual open debate on the protection of civilians.|
|15 September 2022S/PV.9133||This was a briefing on conflict-induced hunger following OCHA’s 26 August white note to Council members on widespread food insecurity due to conflict and violence in northern Ethiopia, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.|
|19 May 2022S/PV.9036||This was a Council ministerial-level open debate on conflict and food security.|