What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 Mar 2021

High-Level Open Debate on Conflict and Food Security

Tomorrow (11 March), Security Council members are holding an open debate via videoconference (VTC) on conflict and food security. The US, this month’s Council president, is encouraging Council members to participate at ministerial-level during tomorrow’s session, which will be chaired by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Secretary-General António Guterres, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley, and Executive Director of Oxfam International Gabriella Bucher are the expected briefers. As a follow-up product, Council members are negotiating a presidential statement proposed earlier this week by the US.

The debate’s concept note recalls resolution 2417 on conflict-induced food insecurity, including famine. The Council adopted the resolution in May 2018 amid a resurgence in global food insecurity, primarily being driven at the time by conflict. Resolution 2417 identified how conflict contributes to hunger—directly, through the effects of war, such as the displacement of people from farming or grazing land and the destruction of agricultural assets, or indirectly, by disrupting markets and increasing food prices. 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 sanctions measures on those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance.

The concept note observes that food insecurity has worsened in the six months since the Council’s September 2020 briefing on conflict-induced food insecurity. That meeting was prompted by an OCHA white paper warning about the risk of conflict-induced food insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. In addition to these cases, other conflict-induced food crises were also discussed at the meeting, such as the situation in Burkina Faso. According to the concept note, “It is essential that [the Council] understand[s] where the risks are today, where they might be looming in future months, and where the Council must act to stop conflict-driven food insecurity and hold those responsible to account.” Countries facing food insecurity from ongoing conflict that are also identified in the concept note include Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, as well as the Sahel and Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Guterres and Beasley are likely to provide an overview of the rising food insecurity. They may observe that 88 million people were experiencing acute food insecurity where conflict was the primary driver of hunger by the end of 2020, an increase from 77 million people in 2019. Of particular concern are the more than thirty-four million people facing “emergency” levels of hunger, and the 155,000 people enduring “catastrophic” or famine-like conditions in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen, based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) used by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the WFP and other partner organisations to monitor food insecurity.

Guterres is expected to express concern about the situation in Tigray, where fighting since November 2020 has disrupted the harvest, and humanitarian access has been difficult. He could echo points made by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock at last week’s 4 March closed-door Council meeting on Tigray. According to media reports, Lowcock cited “anecdotal reports of starvation”, while noting that aid agencies were scaling up their responses and urging donors to contribute to a $400 million appeal. On Yemen, where 16.2 million people are projected to face IPC phase 3 “crisis” levels of food insecurity or worse by mid-2021, Guterres is likely to reiterate the disappointment he expressed in a press statement last week with the 1 March Yemen pledging conference. Donors committed just $1.7 billion out of $3.85 billion requested for the 2021 humanitarian response plan.

Beasley is likely to reflect on the situations in countries he has recently visited. Yesterday he completed a trip to Yemen, which included visiting Sana’a, held by the Houthi rebel group. Since the start of the conflict in Tigray, he has travelled to Ethiopia twice, most recently from late February to early March, meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Since February, Beasley has also visited South Sudan, where 7.24 million people are projected to face acute food insecurity between April and July. Last week, Beasley was in the DRC, currently the world’s largest food security crisis. At the end of 2020, 21.8 million people were acutely food insecure, a result of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic compounding the impact of decades of conflict. Beasley is likely to highlight the 22 February attack on a WFP convoy in eastern DRC, which killed a WFP staff member, the Italian ambassador to the DRC and a Carabinieri police officer. It seems that Beasley could announce a new joint resource mobilisation strategy by the WFP with FAO and OCHA that seeks $5.5 billion to avert famine and protect livelihoods.

Bucher’s briefing could draw attention to the links between conflict and hunger, the pandemic and climate change. In addition to the Council being kept informed on conflict-induced food insecurity (resolution 2417 requests the Secretary-General to report swiftly to the Council when widespread conflict-induced food insecurity occurs), Bucher may underscore the importance of Council action that addresses the sources of hunger in conflict by supporting ceasefires and peace negotiations, and enabling humanitarian access. Bucher could further address issues around accountability for conflict-induced food insecurity.

The concept note invites Council members to discuss the worsening food security environments, relevant obligations under international humanitarian law, challenges in mobilising resources for humanitarian assistance, and the implementation of resolution 2417. A set of guiding questions are set out:

  • How can member states enhance collaboration to increase access to civilians in need of life-saving assistance and overcome attacks on humanitarian personnel and other types of interference in aid delivery?
  • Do we need a UN focal point to help guide the implementation of resolution 2417?
  • How should the Council prevent or respond to potential famine in the coming year?
  • Where should we be focusing on starvation in conflict situations and where are displacements taking place because of food security disruptions?

Some members are likely to highlight different country situations, especially Yemen and Tigray, which Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said would be the focus of the meeting at a press conference last week. Members are expected to highlight the intertwined issues of climate change and hunger, and the destabilising impacts of the pandemic’s economic fallout. Beasley has frequently cited the pandemic as having doubled those facing acute food insecurity from 135 million to 270 million people.

The issue of hunger and conflict is of interest to several Council members in addition to the US. In September 2020, the UK appointed a Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs Nick Dyer, who briefed like-minded countries last month in a meeting on the implementation of resolution 2417. This year, Ireland and Niger are responsible for organising informal meetings of Council members on the bi-annual WFP/FAO report on monitoring hunger in conflict-affected countries. This is a practice that the Dominican Republic and Germany started in 2019.

While most Council members see the value of having these discussions on hunger and security, Russia regularly expresses the view that it does not consider hunger an appropriate topic for the Council. According to Russia, while the Council already addresses food crises in its consideration of specific conflict situations, its multi-faceted causes make it a subject that other UN organs are better equipped to address.