Protection of Civilians: Briefing on Conflict and Food Security
Tomorrow afternoon (15 September), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on armed conflict and food security, under the “Protection of civilians in armed conflict” agenda item. Brazil and Ireland, the Council’s focal points on conflict and hunger, requested the meeting following OCHA’s 26 August “white note” that provides an update on widespread food insecurity due to conflict and violence in northern Ethiopia, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley, and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Chief Economist Máximo Torero Cullen.
OCHA sent Council members the white note in accordance with resolution 2417 of 24 May 2018 that calls 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. The white note describes “armed conflict and violence as the primary drivers of these risks” in South Sudan, Yemen, northeast Nigeria and Ethiopia, where a combined estimated 648,000 people face catastrophe level food insecurity. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a “catastrophe” designation (IPC Phase 5) is the highest level of food insecurity, which includes famine conditions but falls short of an outright “famine” declaration (which occurs when at least 20 percent of the population is affected, with roughly one out of three children being acutely malnourished and two people dying per day for every 10,000 inhabitants due to starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease).
In Yemen, the white note reports that approximately 19 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, with 161,000 facing catastrophe levels. In South Sudan, the note says that 7.7 million people were projected to face acute food insecurity during April to July 2022, of which 2.9 million likely faced critical food insecurity (IPC Phase 4) and 87,000 people experienced catastrophe levels. The white note relies on data from the last IPC analysis for Tigray, Ethiopia, published in June 2021, which projected 400,000 people to face catastrophe conditions by September 2021. It says that the IPC Famine Review Committee’s warnings of famine last year remain pertinent. The white note further reports that more than seven million people in the Amhara region and 1.2 million people in the Afar region, which border Tigray, remain in need of food assistance. In northeast Nigeria, 4.1 million were projected to face acute food insecurity from June to August. This includes 588,000 people facing emergency levels, with “strong indications” of some people being in catastrophe conditions.
Griffiths is likely to describe how conflict is driving these food crises by forcibly displacing people and destroying infrastructure and assets essential to livelihoods and food security. He may mention that in some cases, food and supplies for civilians are deliberately impeded, in what may amount to a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Griffiths is also expected to focus on operational issues, such as challenges to humanitarian access.
Griffiths may mention some of the white note’s recommendations. In addition to country-specific recommendations for the Council, the note sets out broader steps that member states can take to address widespread food insecurity. These steps include, among others, recommendations for member states to:
- press for peaceful and negotiated political solutions to armed conflict and violence;
- remind states and armed groups of their obligations under IHL;
- call for and provide support to independent and impartial investigations into alleged violations and abuses of human rights and IHL; and
- mitigate the effects of the crisis in Ukraine by sustaining global food production, avoiding trade restrictions and releasing strategic food reserves to reduce global food prices.
Griffiths and the other briefers are also likely to highlight the situations in Somalia and Afghanistan that are flagged in the white note. At a press conference in Mogadishu on 5 September, Griffiths warned that famine will occur in two areas in the Bay region (Baidoa and Burhakaba) in South-Central Somalia between October and December this year. The white note says that in Somalia, drought has already pushed 213,000 people into catastrophe levels. Regarding Afghanistan, it notes that the country has pockets of IPC Phase 5 conditions and that economic shocks are the primary driver of food insecurity. Griffiths might mention the letter sent by the Secretary-General to UN member states on 31 August to “sound the alarm” and call for “urgent action to avert impending famine” in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Torero Cullen may reference the rising trend in conflict-induced hunger. The annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) prepared by the Global Network Against Food Crises—an alliance of humanitarian and development actors working to prevent and respond to food crises—which was released in May, showed that in 2021, close to 193 million people faced crisis levels of hunger or worse across 53 countries and territories due to conflict and insecurity, economic shocks and weather extremes. Conflict was the primary driver of this hunger for 139 million people in 24 countries and territories. This was a marked increase from 2020, when conflict was the main driver of hunger for 99 million of the 155 million people then experiencing acute hunger. The conflict in Ukraine, which is a major exporter of grain, has caused a rise in global food and fuel prices, exacerbating the problem. Beasley may observe that despite the increase in the number of acutely hungry people, humanitarian funding is not keeping apace, while the cost for the WFP to deliver food assistance is at an unprecedented high.
Council members are likely to be interested in hearing more on the causes of food insecurity in these conflicts and what the Security Council can do to address these crises. Country-specific recommendations for the Council in the white note include supporting Yemen’s economy to make food more affordable for Yemeni consumers. In Ethiopia, the Council could, among several recommendations, request that all parties allow and facilitate humanitarian access and additional road routes for humanitarian aid into Tigray, along with encouraging the restoration of essential services, including electricity, communications and banking services.
Members may highlight the Council’s responsibility to maintain access for aid, protect relief workers and hold conflict parties accountable for depriving civilians of food or targeting food production and systems. Resolution 2417 recalls that the Council may impose sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of, access to, or distribution of humanitarian assistance.
Several members may welcome OCHA’s white note, which they consider a crucial tool for the Council to act in accordance with resolution 2417, including using the Council’s platform to raise awareness of conflict-induced hunger crises. This is the fifth white note that OCHA has issued since the adoption of resolution 2417, having previously alerted the Council about hunger crises in South Sudan (August 2018), Yemen (October 2018), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen (September 2020), and Tigray (May 2021).
Several members are likely to raise the impact of the Ukraine war in exacerbating global food insecurity. Some members might recognise the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a UN-brokered agreement signed by Russia, Ukraine and Türkiye on 22 July to facilitate the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilisers from Ukrainian ports. FAO data from earlier this month showed that its Cereal Price Index declined in August by 1.4 percent compared with the previous month, partially because of the resumption of exports from the Black Sea ports in Ukraine. Some members may stress the importance of grain shipments under the deal reaching the most vulnerable people. Among other issues, some members may highlight how hunger can also be a driver of conflict. They may emphasise the need to address the root causes of hunger, such as poverty, under-development and climate change.
Tomorrow’s briefing follows several meetings earlier this year on conflict and food security. On 22 April, Ireland organised an Arria-formula meeting on conflict and hunger. In May, the US convened a ministerial-level open debate on conflict and food security as a signature event of its Council presidency, after organising a similar high-level open debate during its March 2021 presidency. On 20 September, the AU, the EU, Spain and the US will co-host a food security summit during the General Assembly’s high-level week. The summit will build on the US-chaired ministerial meeting held at the UN in May and the “Roadmap for Global Food Security—Call to Action” that was adopted at the time, which 103 member states have now signed.