What's In Blue

Posted Wed 20 Apr 2022

Arria-formula Meeting on Conflict and Hunger

Tomorrow (21 April), Security Council members will hold an Arria-formula meeting on conflict and hunger. Ireland is organising the meeting, which will be broadcast on UN TV. The expected briefers are Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Máximo Torero Cullen, Director of Emergencies at the World Food Programme (WFP) Margot van der Velden, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri, and the humanitarian organisation Concern Worldwide’s Regional Director for the Horn of Africa, Amina Abdulla. Following Council members’ interventions, other member states will be able to make statements. Civil society organisations can submit statements for inclusion in a compilation of statements to be prepared by Ireland.

Ireland is the Security Council’s informal focal point on conflict-induced hunger. It is a role that was taken up by elected members the Dominican Republic and Germany in 2019 after the adoption of resolution 2417 of 24 May 2018, and then continued by Ireland and Niger last year. Resolution 2417 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, including 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 new sanctions on those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance.

In proposing tomorrow’s meeting, Ireland has highlighted that this year is forecast to be the most food insecure on record globally. This is part of a worsening trend of food insecurity. Data from the forthcoming annual report by the Global Network Against Food Crises—an alliance of humanitarian and development actors formed by the EU, FAO and WFP—is expected to show that acute food insecurity increased in 2021 for the fifth year in a row, with conflict remaining the primary driver. In addition, the number of people facing conflict-induced hunger grew at a faster rate. According to the concept note prepared by Ireland for tomorrow’s event, conflict and insecurity were the main drivers of hunger for 99 million people in 2020 and for 139 million in 2021.

A 26 January FAO and WFP report on “Hunger Hotspots”, which provides an outlook for the period from February to May, notes 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 warns that acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 20 countries, and cites Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Syria, and the Sahel region, particularly the Central Sahel, as situations of particular concern. In most of these hotspots, conflict or organised violence are the primary drivers for hunger and may trigger further deterioration of food security. 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, with 18.1 million people of whom 100,000 are at risk of starvation.

The effects of the war in Ukraine on national, regional and international food systems have exacerbated food insecurity globally, as the concept note observes. Russia and Ukraine are among the most important producers of agricultural commodities and, in the case of Russia, of fertilisers. A 25 March information note published by the FAO says 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 countries, including numerous conflict-affected countries, are highly dependent on imports of foodstuffs and fertilisers from Russia and Ukraine. The report warns that the resulting supply gap could raise international food and feed prices by eight to 22 percent above their already elevated baseline levels.

According to the concept note, tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting will allow the briefers—who are active practitioners on the conflict and hunger agenda, both in the UN system and in the field—to share updates on global trends of conflict-induced hunger and recommend possible action to break the cycle of conflict-induced food insecurity. The meeting also seeks to facilitate an understanding of the issues driving conflict and hunger. In this context, speakers are also likely to discuss other factors contributing to hunger that are often present in conflict situations, such as economic shocks, including the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change.

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, as well as 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 in 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.

Some members view the reporting on conflict-induced hunger in the Secretary-General’s annual protection of civilians report as insufficient: last year’s report covered the issue in about one page. At the time of the Council’s latest meeting on conflict and hunger, a high-level open debate organised under the March 2021 US presidency, the US proposed a presidential statement to establish a more focused reporting cycle on conflict-induced hunger. During the negotiations on the text, the US first sought two Secretary-General’s reports annually on the issue, and later amended the request to four reports over the next two years. Some members, however, felt that the current reporting structures were adequate, preventing agreement on the presidential statement. Differences during the negotiation also demonstrated some Council members’ concern that the issue of hunger could be a pretext for adding situations to the Council’s agenda, as well as scepticism about the Council’s expanding consideration of thematic issues that can be addressed in other UN organs.

According to the Irish-prepared concept note, the Council’s role in addressing instances of conflict-induced food insecurity remains “under-utilised”. The concept note suggests, as part of a list of guiding questions, that speakers consider how a more robust understanding of hunger as a driver and consequence of conflict could support “context specific, timely and tailored responses of the Security Council”, and whether further white notes, considering the marked increase in conflict-induced hunger, could facilitate earlier Council action. At tomorrow’s meeting, members could recall resolution 2573, which was adopted at an April 2021 debate on the protection of critical civilian infrastructure in conflict. The resolution recalled language from resolution 2417, emphasising that conflict parties should ensure the proper functioning of food systems and markets in situations of armed conflict.

The focal points for conflict-induced hunger have sought to host at their missions two meetings a year at the deputy ambassador level to consider the bi-annual FAO and WFP reports on “Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situation”. The last such meeting took place in December 2021. Ireland plans to host the next meeting in May, to discuss the upcoming tenth FAO and WFP report on the issue. Additionally, Ireland, together with the FAO, WFP, the Fordham University Institute of Humanitarian Affairs and the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, organised a meeting earlier this month for this year’s newly elected Council members to familiarise them with the conflict and hunger file.

Looking ahead, the US is planning to organise a signature event on conflict and hunger during its May Council presidency. Beyond the Council, there is a 12-member Group of Friends of Action on Conflict and Hunger (comprised of the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US).

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