What's In Blue

Conflict and Hunger: Informal Interactive Dialogue on Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti

On 28 July, Security Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) to discuss an OCHA white note on food security risks in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Haiti. OCHA Assistant Secretary-General Joyce Msuya, Food and Agricultural Organization Director of Office of Emergencies and Resilience Rein Paulsen, and World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau are expected to brief. Representatives of the concerned countries have also been invited to participate. Brazil and Switzerland, the Council focal points on conflict and food security, proposed the meeting.

OCHA submitted the white note, dated 8 June, to Council members in accordance with resolution 2417 of May 2018, which requested the Secretary-General to report swiftly when “the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread food insecurity” occurs. The white note highlights armed conflict and violence as the primary drivers of acute hunger in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Haiti, affecting 32.9 million people, including 5.5 million people facing emergency conditions. The note observes that although similar factors exist elsewhere, conflict and violence are causing rapid deterioration in these three countries. In calling for the meeting, Brazil and Switzerland are seeking to promote discussion on the causes of the deterioration, what UN agencies are doing in response, and how the Security Council might help address these food insecurity crises.

Msuya may present the situations in the three countries as detailed in the white note and its recommendations. According to the white note, the food security crisis in Burkina Faso “has never been worse”. Nearly 2.2 million people, or 10 percent of the population, are acutely food insecure, including 22,500 people facing the risk of starvation. These numbers could reach 3.35 million people and 42,700 people, respectively, by August because of the lean season. The white note reports that nearly 940,000 people are estimated to live in 27 population centres that are either besieged or partially besieged by armed groups, including Dijibo, the capital city of Soum Province, which had 61,000 residents in 2019 and now hosts nearly 270,000 displaced persons. The white note recommends intensifying engagement with all relevant stakeholders so that principled humanitarians can proceed safely across Burkina Faso and, given the critical role of aid delivery by air in parts of the country, ensuring that sufficient resources are available to maintain air assets for the humanitarian operation.

In the DRC, protracted and resurgent conflict has driven food insecurity by creating serious challenges for harvesting crops, earning income, and accessing food. This is particularly the case in eastern DRC, where more than 6.7 million people were acutely food insecure in North Kivu, Ituri and South Kivu provinces during the first half of 2023. This includes 1.5 million people facing “emergency conditions”, which is one step below “catastrophic” conditions or famine, according to the Integrated Phase Classification and Cadre Harmonise methodologies that relief agencies use to measure hunger levels. Ongoing violence is the most significant hindrance to aid operations. In total, about 25 million people across the DRC face acute levels of food insecurity or worse, currently the highest number in any country.

Haiti, meanwhile, has reached “unprecedented” food insecurity. Nearly five million people through June were projected to face acute levels of food insecurity or worse, including 1.8 million in emergency conditions. This is linked to increased activity and territorial control by armed gangs, whose power and reach have expanded significantly in the capital Port-au-Prince and elsewhere amid Haiti’s prolonged institutional vacuum and political crisis. The white note highlights how armed groups are disrupting food systems by seeking to control areas in the Artibonite Department, which is Haiti’s historic breadbasket, and by controlling road networks that constrain people’s access to markets. The insecurity has exacerbated the challenges of four years of worsening economic conditions, which has made the population further vulnerable to food insecurity. Among its recommendations, the white note suggests convening stakeholders, with the support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States, to galvanise action to address the humanitarian crisis, protect civilians and stabilise the security situation.

Msuya may recall some of the white note’s other recommendations applicable to all three situations. These include: pressing for peaceful and negotiated political solutions; ensuring that all relevant parties facilitate the movement of commercial food supplies and access to necessary cash and fuel; and calling for and supporting independent, impartial and prompt investigations into alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law.

A joint FAO-WFP report on Hunger Hotspots issued in May, which forecasts food insecurity levels for June to November 2023 in 18 countries and regions, added the Sahel (Burkina Faso and Mali), Haiti and Sudan to its situations of highest concern. Paulsen and Skau may refer to the report’s analysis that sets out the overlapping and interlinked drivers of acute hunger: conflict and organised violence, economic shocks, weather extremes and climate variability. They could reiterate the report’s warning that humanitarian actions are critical to prevent further starvation and death in the situations of highest concern, including the Sahel and Haiti. In addition, they may recall its relevant recommendations including emergency and anticipatory actions, the latter being short-term interventions to be implemented before new humanitarian needs materialise.

Council members are also expected to be interested in the concerned countries’ views as to how to foster cooperation over food insecurity. Council members may call for the implementation of the recommendations in the white note and highlight their collective responsibility to implement resolution 2417. Resolution 2417 urged those with influence over parties to armed conflict to remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law and for states to investigate alleged violations related to the starvation of civilians. It also recalled that the Council has adopted and may consider sanctions on those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance.

Last week, on 17 July, Russia announced that it would not extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea since August 2022 and has been considered key to keeping global food prices stable. Russia has said that it took this decision due to a lack of progress in resolving barriers that it says obstruct the export of its agricultural products to international markets. Tomorrow, some members may criticise Russia’s decision as counter-productive to efforts to address the crisis situations described in the white note.

In addition to greater humanitarian assistance and political interventions to facilitate aid delivery and address the immediate threats of food insecurity, members may recall the need for longer-term development support that strengthens food production capacities and that helps these countries become less vulnerable to food insecurity.

The focal points’ proposal for tomorrow’s IID follows objections by African Council members to holding a Council meeting on the 8 June white note. This appears to have stemmed from the focus on the situation in Burkina Faso, which is not a country on the Council’s agenda. African Council members have previously expressed concerns over Council engagement on the issue of “conflict and hunger” and discussion of OCHA white notes which, they have at times worried, may serve to bring before the Council countries that are not on its agenda. For instance, African members objected in 2021 to holding a Council meeting on a white note about the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which led eventually to its discussing in an informal interactive dialogue rather than a formal Council meeting. It seems that the same sort of compromise led to holding tomorrow’s session as an IID.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes ahead of next week’s ministerial-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity that the US is organising on 3 August as a signature event of its August Council presidency. It similarly held ministerial-level open debates on this topic during its Council presidencies in March 2021 and May 2022. Council members began negotiating a draft presidential statement earlier this week in connection with the upcoming debate.

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