What's In Blue

Posted Wed 16 Sep 2020

Videoconference on Conflict-induced Hunger

Tomorrow afternoon (17 September), Security Council members will hold an open videoconference (VTC) on conflict-induced food insecurity and the risk of famine, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley and the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Qu Dongyu will brief. Tomorrow’s meeting follows the 4 September “Note by the Secretariat” sent by Lowcock to Council members warning about worsening food insecurity, including the risk of famine, as a result of armed conflict in these four countries.

Lowcock sent the note in accordance with resolution 2417 of May 2018. The resolution requests the Secretary-General to report swiftly to the Council when there arises “the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity”. The Dominican Republic, penholder to a Council presidential statement on this issue in April, engaged members to explore options for Council follow-up, which led to a request for the briefing by eight Council members: Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, the UK, and Vietnam. Indonesia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia, and the US subsequently expressed their support for the proposal.

The note says that food security risks in the four conflict situations are being “further exacerbated by natural disasters, economic shocks and public health crises, all compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic”. It warns that the “lives of millions” are endangered. A lack of humanitarian funding is further hampering efforts to address the hunger crises.

In the DRC, 21 million people face “crisis” or worse levels of acute food insecurity, which has been driven this year by escalating violence, especially in the eastern DRC, that has displaced 1.3 million people since January, according to the note. The situation in the DRC has emerged as the world’s largest food crisis this year. The white paper says that the risk of famine in Yemen is “slowly returning…Similar conditions are emerging today, worsening key indicators beyond the levels seen in 2018”, when the UN sent a previous white paper on the prospect of famine overtaking the country. Lowcock’s letter attributes the reemerging threat to intensified fighting—now on 42 fronts compared to 30 two years ago—and to Yemen’s deteriorating economy.

Conflict with the different factions of terrorist group Boko Haram has been largely responsible for worsening humanitarian conditions in northeast Nigeria, according to the note. Ten million people or eighty percent of the population in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states require humanitarian assistance and protection, a fifty percent increase since last year, and the number of people facing food insecurity has increased from 3.7 million to 4.3 million, as of June 2020. In South Sudan, the white note highlights the rapid deterioration in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area since an upsurge in violence in February. More than 1.4 million people in the two areas face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity. Severe flooding the last two years in South Sudan has compounded the situation, destroying 11,000 tons of cereals and affecting 1.4 million heads of livestock, according to the note.

Lowcock may elaborate on the worsening conditions in these countries during his briefing. The meeting is seen as an opportunity to draw attention to these crises, including the major funding gaps facing relief efforts. According to the Secretariat note, this year’s humanitarian appeal for the DRC is 22 percent funded; in Yemen, the response plan is 24 percent funded; 33 percent funded in northeast Nigeria; and 32 percent funded in South Sudan. During yesterday’s Council briefing on Yemen, Lowcock expressed his frustration with the major decline in funding for relief efforts in Yemen compared to the previous two years, singling out donors Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait as having “so far given nothing to this year’s UN [humanitarian response] plan”, and for not fulfilling their pledged contributions. Today Council members held a VTC on South Sudan, in which Lowcock flagged its “famine-like conditions” in the run-up to tomorrow’s meeting.

Beasley may reiterate that the main driver of the rise in global hunger has been intensified conflict, as documented in The Global Report on Food Crises 2020 that was released earlier this year. As Beasley has underscored in recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the situation worse, with its disruption to economies, trade and supply lines. In April, he told Council members at a briefing on the protection of civilians from conflict-induced hunger that the pandemic threatened to almost double by the year’s end those facing crisis levels of hunger or worse—from 135 million people in 55 countries to 265 million. At tomorrow’s session he could provide an update on the pandemic’s impact.

Director-General Qu is expected to provide more technical information from the latest food security analyses on the situations covered in the Secretariat note. Briefers are also likely to refer to other conflict-related hunger crises such as in Burkina Faso, Somalia and Afghanistan, where the white note says key indicators point to similar deteriorating situations. Burkina Faso is a situation where there are concerns about famine-like conditions in pockets of the Sahel region as food insecurity in the country has almost tripled over the last year.

In addition to calling for donors to step up, Council members are likely to emphasise the need for humanitarian access and the protection of humanitarian workers. The white note reports that more than 15 aid workers in northeast Nigeria have been killed in the past year. In South Sudan, nine aid workers have been killed in 2020, including six in Jonglei, and aid supplies have been looted 17 times. Members may further condemn violence and attacks that destroy production systems and infrastructure for delivering food such as farms, markets, water systems, and uproot livelihoods. Echoing the briefers’ call for the need to end the wars that are driving the food crises, members may reiterate the Council’s global ceasefire demand from resolution 2532 to combat the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in situations on its agenda. They could further highlight the need for donors to help these countries counter the economic crises caused by the pandemic, which is accelerating food insecurity.

The 4 September letter is the third such note that the Secretariat has submitted to the Council since the adoption of resolution 2417. OCHA alerted the Council to rising food insecurity in white papers on South Sudan in August 2018 and Yemen in October 2018. The Dominican Republic has been particularly active on this issue. It has organised with Germany several informal briefings of Council members to consider the bi-annual joint update of the FAO and WFP on “Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations”. The UK was also closely involved in the discussion around tomorrow’s meeting.  It announced on 2 September that it was stepping up its efforts to combat growing food insecurity, including by appointing a Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs.

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