What's In Blue

Posted Thu 22 Mar 2018

Conflict and Hunger: Briefing

Tomorrow (23 March), the Security Council is convening a briefing on conflict and hunger, to be chaired by Netherlands Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag. Briefings are expected from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, on behalf of the Rome-based agencies (WFP, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and International Fund for Agricultural Development).

The session follows the Council’s consideration last year of the four conflict-affected countries threatened by famine: northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. However, the meeting is meant to look more broadly at a trend in food insecurity linked to conflict. When Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the Council in October 2017, updating members on the risk of famine in the four countries, he noted that of the 815 million people globally suffering from hunger, 60 percent live in countries affected by conflict. Today the EU, the FAO and the WFP released a report on “surging levels” of acute hunger—defined as posing an immediate threat to lives and livelihood—largely attributable to new or intensified conflict. According to a press release, conflict continues to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries, and it will likely remain a major driver of food crises in 2018, affecting Afghanistan, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as Libya and the central Sahel (Mali and Niger).

The convening of this briefing by the Netherlands during its Council presidency follows its organisation with Switzerland of a discussion series in 2017 on the issue. These included a meeting for Council members at the International Peace Institute, then meetings in Rome and in Geneva, leading to a report entitled Conflict and hunger: breaking a vicious cycle that was presented to Lowcock and Beasley last December.

An aim of tomorrow’s briefing is to consider how warring parties’ conduct of hostilities drives food insecurity in many of today’s conflicts by restricting humanitarian access or directly attacking sources of production and infrastructure for delivering food, such as farmland, livestock and roads. War also causes increased food prices, among its effects on economies that impact food security. The meeting seeks to focus attention on the Council’s role in addressing these challenges and reaffirming obligations to comply with international humanitarian law. This includes the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a tactic of war and the responsibility of belligerents to protect civilians in areas under their control. As noted by the concept noted prepared for the session, “It is not a lack of rules but the persistent failure to comply with them and the lack of accountability that aggravate situations of food insecurity caused by conflict”.

Lack of compliance with international humanitarian law in such respects is evident in situations on the Council’s agenda. The Panel of Experts monitoring the Council’s sanctions regime for South Sudan reported in November that the government had been “using food as a weapon of war” to inflict suffering on civilians, and that its deliberate prevention of food assistance has caused “death by starvation”. A January report by the Yemen Panel of Experts similarly described the blockade by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition as “using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war”. The coalition has also targeted infrastructure, such as destroying in 2015 the cranes at Yemen’s largest port, while the Panel has also found Houthi rebels responsible for diverting aid and preventing access. In Syria, Lowcock has highlighted attacks targeting bakeries in Syria, and in his 28 February briefing, warned that assistance across conflict lines and besieged areas has collapsed in recent months, which he predicted would soon lead to more people dying from starvation and disease than from hostilities.

As part of his briefing, Lowcock is likely to highlight the international humanitarian law responsibilities of belligerents. Beasley is likely to speak about operational challenges that the WFP faces in its relief efforts.

The concept paper outlines a number of questions for members to consider in their interventions. These include how the Security Council can ensure compliance with international humanitarian law to break the cycle of hunger and conflict, and how the Council can ensure improved access and prevent starvation as a method of warfare. The Council has in some situations sought to deliver political messages on the need for belligerents to ensure humanitarian access, and sanctions regimes in Yemen and the CAR include obstruction to humanitarian access among the designation criteria.

Members may also consider how the Council can remain informed about conflict situations in which worrying levels of food insecurity arise, as well as the cooperation between humanitarian and development actors to tackle food insecurity in conflict situations more effectively. The Council’s August 2017 presidential statement on the four countries facing famine requested the Secretary-General to provide early warning when a conflict having devastating humanitarian consequences and hindering an effective humanitarian response risks leading to an outbreak of famine. It also stressed the need to enhance longer-term recovery and resilience of conflict-affected countries—a reference to cooperation between humanitarian and development actors.

Suggestions from last December’s Netherlands/Switzerland-sponsored report include that the Council could request that existing Secretariat reporting mechanisms provide information on worrying levels of food insecurity and diminishing access for operational agencies, and that the link between the Rome-based agencies and New York and Geneva could be strengthened. The report highlighted that the children and armed conflict (CAAC) framework specifically recognises the denial of humanitarian access as one of the six grave violations, but unlike the other five violations, it does not trigger listing in the annual CAAC report. At tomorrow’s session, some members may refer to other factors that contribute to food insecurity among conflict-affected countries such as drought, climate change and extreme poverty.

The Netherlands, in cooperation with other members, is expected to initiate discussion on follow-up Council action.

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