Sounding the alarm on famine exacerbated by conflict, Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to step up efforts to end violence, ensure humanitarian assistance and foster long-term development in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and other areas of instability-rooted starvation.
Speaking in the Security Council this afternoon, he declared: “Until these conflicts are resolved and development takes root, communities and entire regions will continue to be ravaged by hunger and suffering.” He cited studies showing that the decline of world hunger was threatened by the proliferation of strife, with 60 per cent of the 815 million hungry people living in conflict areas.
He said that the parties to all four countries he was warning about had stated their commitment to humanitarian and human rights law, but most of them had not followed through. He called on them to facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, only imposing constraints in good faith, and to respect and protect humanitarian personnel and supplies. Efforts to stem violent extremism, an element in each of the four famine situations, must be stepped up as well.
Emergency programmes and urgent political efforts in the conflict zones must be followed by longer-term efforts. “Right now, we must urgently commit to increasing humanitarian aid and funding the programmes we have in place. Where we have not prevented or resolved conflict, we must support its victims and survivors. In the long-term, we must focus on what communities and countries need to emerge from protracted conflict and instability,” he stated.
“Prevention, as always, must be our watchword,” he added, stating that early famine warning mechanisms, humanitarian aid and strengthened respect for international law must be complemented by investment in sustainable peace and comprehensive long-term solutions in at-risk countries, noting the complex challenges those countries faced.
Meanwhile, he stressed that adequate funding for humanitarian agencies was a matter of life and death. “It is unconscionable that aid agencies must make life-or-death decisions about who gets aid because of a shortage of resources,” he said.
Following the Secretary-General’s briefing, Council members welcomed his efforts to alleviate famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen and his appeals for stepped-up aid, with some speakers describing the additional assistance from their countries. Sweden’s representative, describing her country’s contribution, added that aid workers required full support from the international community and that targeting them was unacceptable. Speakers called on all parties to conflict to respect international humanitarian law, condemning, for example, air attacks on hospitals in Yemen.
Delegates also agreed that the achievement of sustainable development must be stepped up to eradicate the root causes of conflict and stem famine, while the collaboration of parties to conflict, the United Nations, regional organizations and all partners must be utilized to prevent and end conflicts. Terrorism was named often as a factor in causing famine, especially in the four countries spoken of. Ethiopia’s representative and others stressed the links between famine, climate change and conflict.
All speakers agreed on the link between hunger and conflict, and some, including the representative of Japan, specifically endorsed the Security Council’s engagement on mitigating famine. The Russian Federation’s representative, while recognizing the link, said it was simplistic to over-ascribe hunger to conflict; there were many contributing causes, from economic downturns to volatility in world food prices. In many of those areas, the General Assembly had primary competency.
The representative of Uruguay said that one victim of widespread suffering was the lessening sensitivity of people towards those affected by numerous food crises, shown by euphemisms such as “food insecurity”, when hunger was being discussed. “I think we have to stop being indifferent to these evils”, he said.
The representatives of the United Kingdom, United States, Senegal, Kazakhstan, China, Ukraine, Italy, Bolivia, Egypt and France also spoke.
The meeting opened at 3:12 p.m. and ended at 4:46 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that since sounding the alarm nine months ago on the fact that some 20 million people were at severe risk of famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria, the international community responded quickly to the warnings. Donors came forward; nearly 70 per cent of funds requested had now been received. Aid operations were scaled up. Humanitarian agencies and their partners were now reaching close to 13 million people each month with life-saving food, nutrition assistance, health care and other support in the four countries.
“But while we have succeeded in keeping famine at bay, we have not kept suffering at bay,” he said, noting that hunger continued for millions of people, risking stunted growth for children and other permanent damage. The needs kept rising, because the conflicts continued. Some 80 per cent of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) funding, he pointed out, was going to areas affected by conflict. Around 60 per cent of the 815 million people suffering from hunger today lived in conflict areas.
“Until these conflicts are resolved, and development takes root, communities and entire regions will continue to be ravaged by hunger and suffering,” he said, reviewing the situation in the four countries he had warned about and urging action by the parties and the international community to relieve the suffering in each situation.
He said that the parties to all four countries he was warning about had stated their commitment to humanitarian and human rights law, but most of them had not followed through. “I call on them, and those with influence over them, to translate that commitment into practical measures and to address impunity immediately”, he said. That meant allowing and facilitating rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, only imposing constraints in good faith and respecting and protecting humanitarian personnel and supplies.
Last month, he said, a report was released called “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” that underscored that there was currently a reversal of the long-term decline in hunger. Conflict and hunger spiralled into complex disasters that exacerbated each other.
“Prevention, as always, must be our watchword,” he said, adding that early famine warning mechanisms, humanitarian aid and strengthened respect for international law must be complemented by investment in sustainable peace and comprehensive long-term solutions in at-risk countries and noting the complex challenges those countries faced. “They are powerful examples of the complex and multidimensional challenges we face. They require a system-wide approach that addresses the humanitarian-development nexus and its link to peace,” he said.
Development agencies must engage early on with innovative solutions, he added, noting that the World Bank had shown that it was possible to scale up development-oriented programmes, complimenting humanitarian response in fragile countries like Yemen. He welcomed such efforts, saying that they must include regional neighbours and frontline States.
“Right now, we must urgently commit to increasing humanitarian aid and funding the programmes we have in place. Where we have not prevented or resolved conflict, we must support its victims and survivors. In the long term, we must focus on what communities and countries need to emerge from protracted conflict and instability,” he stated. “It is unconscionable that aid agencies must make life-or-death decisions about who gets aid because of a shortage of resources”, he added.
CARL SKAU (Sweden) said that the Secretary-General’s call for action last February and early warning regarding the famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria had presented a model for the future. Humanitarian crises more and more were being driven by conflict, which hindered effective humanitarian responses, leading to shocking levels of human suffering. “This is a worrying trend,” he stressed. Emphasizing that aid workers required full support from the international community, he underscored that targeting humanitarian workers was unacceptable. Sweden’s support to the four countries totalled $131 million, he noted, welcoming engagement by development partners to build long-term resilience. Such catastrophes were not accidents but rather man-made and required political solutions. Ending the conflict meant tackling root causes, including underdevelopment, inequality and exclusion. Emphasizing the need to have the full weight of the Security Council behind the Secretary-General’s call for action, he noted the Council’s responsibility to ensuring that aid workers could carry out their life-saving work.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that eight months ago, the Secretary-General urged a wake-up call to the plight of millions of people. While there had been some positive development in stemming the spread of famine, the absence of famine did not mean the absence of need. The need remained colossal and even greater than what it was in February. “In South Sudan, there are literally more people without food than there are with food,” he stressed. The impact fell more acutely on women, girls and children. The long-term solution to all those crises was to end the conflict. Aid must reach people in need quickly. The Council must overcome political barriers to resolve the situation. In north-east Nigeria, aid agencies could not access those in need due to fighting between Boko Haram and the Government. In all four countries, sustainable peace could only be achieved through addressing the root causes of the crises. The Council had been very clear about the need for increased access to Yemen, he noted, emphasizing that public-sector salaries must also be paid on time to stem the spread of cholera. In South Sudan, access restrictions also continued to impede aid deliveries. Hunger was being used as a weapon of war, he said, also adding: “We have the power and duty to influence behaviour in the right direction.”
NIKKI HALEY (United States) said the humanitarian needs in all four countries were unprecedented, compounded more so by devastating cholera outbreaks. Those crises were not the “wrath of God” but rather completely man-made. She expressed concern that people without access to food, water, basic services and economic opportunity were more likely to turn to extremist groups. She said that fighters continued to impede food deliveries to those in need. There were even reports that some warring parties were starving populations as a tactic of war. While urging all Member States to contribute to funding to alleviate the suffering, she said the main component in doing so remained access to people.
That was especially true in South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen, she continued, adding that the pervasive conflict in South Sudan had left half the population facing hunger. Attacks on aid workers were increasing. Since 2013, 85 humanitarian workers — 18 this year — had been killed in South Sudan. Meanwhile, Yemen continued to face the worst cholera outbreak in history, and like elsewhere, women and children were suffering the most. Noting that in Nigeria attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) continued to impede aid deliveries, she underscored the need to address the suffering of 5.2 million Nigerians in need. While in Somalia unprecedented donor contributions had helped avert famine, the threat persisted with terrorists and armed groups continuing to impede the humanitarian response. “When they block aid, we have to call them out,” she stressed.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said that famine, in addition to claiming the lives of millions of people, perpetuated the vicious cycle of poverty, which particularly affected women, children and the elderly. “You rightly sounded the alarm to draw the attention to the plight of millions,” he said, addressing the Secretary-General. The humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north-east Nigeria, possibly the worst since World War II, could further deteriorate if the international community failed to act promptly. He reiterated his call on all parties to the conflict to align with international humanitarian law and to enable full access to humanitarian assistance. The response to the crises required immediate, adequate and easily accessible financing, he stressed, calling for additional contributions from States as well as the private sector. Highlighting the need for a lasting response to the famine, he said that there were sufficient resources and means to eradicate hunger all over the world.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) called on the Council to “go beyond expressions of solidarity” and immediately address the situation on the ground. It was clear that military solutions could never be an option and would only lead to more tragedy. Unemployment, poverty, and the exploitation of natural resources were root causes of tension and conflict. Response to famine required strengthened connectivity among partners and billions of dollars. Calls for funding could often be futile, however, he said, adding that it was vital to harness support. Food security and the protection of rural livelihoods were essential in reducing tensions, especially where food supplies and markets were severely strained. “Support for livelihoods is the best defence,” he said. Livelihood projects could help communities grow. He also underscored that neighbouring countries and organizations were critical in carrying out a timely intervention.
SHEN BO (China) welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts to alleviate the suffering in the affected countries and his appeals for aid, to which his country had responded with substantial contributions. Assistance to achieving sustainable development must be bolstered to eradicate the root causes of conflict, while the synergy of the United Nations, regional organizations and all partners must be utilized to prevent and end conflicts. In realization of the primary leadership of each country in shaping its own destiny, capacity must be built in all countries to increase their food production and strengthen their stability.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said that humanitarian response should be tailored to each situation, but it was evident that in all four areas discussed, conflict was exacerbating climate-induced humanitarian crisis. Short-term aid plus investing in resilience for the long term was crucial, as was political activity to end conflict. There was an urgent need to bridge the funding gap for emergency relief efforts; it was critical that all commitments were honoured and fulfilled. She pledged her country’s work on initiatives to stem famine and welcomed early warning efforts in that regard.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said that it must be underlined that it was human action that had caused all the famine crises that had been described and it was incumbent on the international community to end the suffering. He called on all parties to conflict to respect international humanitarian law, condemning, for example, air attacks on hospitals in Yemen. Terrorism was taking its toll as well. Those responsible for suffering must be held to account. One victim of all the suffering was the lessening sensitivity of people, expressed by euphemisms such as food insecurity, when hunger was being discussed. “I think we have to stop being indifferent to these evils”, he said.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said that some 20 million people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria faced a food crisis. Ongoing conflicts and violence in those countries continued to hinder an effective humanitarian response. Especially alarming was the situation in Yemen, where millions were facing a triple threat: food shortages, cholera and violence. In north-east Nigeria, people faced massive displacements, reduced agricultural activities and harvests, and market disruptions. Millions of Somalis were at risk of malnutrition and starvation. While the humanitarian workers had eased famine conditions in South Sudan, a record-breaking 1.7 million people were still on the brink of starvation. Those crises were all fully preventable, were it not for the irresponsible actions of men, he said. He urged parties to the conflict to respect and protect civilians and abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law. Humanitarian workers must be able to carry out their work.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said the situation had not improved. Even though the famine had been contained in some areas, the overall number of those at risk had increased. The world must act to prevent such crises. It was clear that the famine was man-made and conflict-driven, he said, underscoring the connection between conflict and food security. Food insecurity fuelled conflict and forced displacement. It was critical to step up efforts focused on agricultural and food assistance to tackle the issues in a holistic manner. Early warning mechanisms were essential for breaking the cycle of violence, he said, commending the Secretary-General for his early warning, which was instrumental in providing a timely response. The growing commitment of the Security Council on humanitarian issues was a move in the right direction. A holistic approach was critical when dealing with peace and security issues. “We discuss a lot about crises, this is one where we can make a difference,” he said.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said the increase in food insecurity and the risk of famine in Yemen were of great concern. Hunger had caused a large number people to flee their homes. Parties to the conflicts had restricted transportation routes and access to airports where food could enter countries in need. Climate change was also a determining factor. “This is immoral,” he stressed. People were starving not because of a lack of food but rather lack of political will. He also stressed that parties to the conflict must never target humanitarian workers. He welcomed a comprehensive and sustained response through early warnings and by strengthening the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) response systems. Joint efforts of the international community and the United Nations agencies were vital.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that the crisis in Somalia was not restricted to the famine alone. it also stemmed from several security aspects given the large displacement of persons in the region. It was important to redouble efforts to support Somali institutions in terms of prevention, early warning and early response. In South Sudan, while economic and climate factors had contributed to the crisis, the main cause was armed conflict. South Sudan required the international community’s support as the needs still heavily outweighed the availability of resources. An inclusive political process was critical to ending the humanitarian plight of civilians. He expressed concern over the emergency food situation in Yemen, adding that international contributions must be scaled up. Pressure must also be placed on the Houthis to allow safe passage for aid workers. In Nigeria, the Government had facilitated access to people in need and even presented a plan to address humanitarian challenges. He underscored the need for international support, adding: “Famines do not come from out of the blue or by chance, famine is avoidable.”
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) endorsed the resolute intent of the Secretary-General to tackle famine and its causes. Conflicts, however, were merely one of the factors behind hunger. Tying all famine to conflict was simplistic. Global economic factors and volatility in food prices, along with many other factors, all contributed. The food shortage reported showed that hunger existed in many areas that were not immersed in violence. Sustainable development, productivity, sounder supply chains and other factors were being discussed in the General Assembly and other bodies of the United Nations. His country, a food producer, had delivered humanitarian aid, including a substantial amount of food, in addition to contributions to the WFP and other organizations. He described in detail such aid that had been supplied to the countries on which the Secretary-General focused.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed deep concern over the threat of famine described by the Secretary-General. He agreed that much of it was caused or exacerbated by conflict. The Security Council must help mitigate food crises. Emergency aid must be augmented by long-term planning for development and resilience. He described aid projects by Japan that provided both life-saving assistance and spurred development that helped consolidate peace and build infrastructure to boost long-term food supplies.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), Council President, said that the links between international peace and security and famine were clear, which was why France had organized an Arria formula meeting last June. He was grateful for the Secretary-General’s call for action. The fight against food insecurity must be a priority for all. Constant vigilance was needed, and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes such as the use of starvation as a strategic tactic, must be responded to. Access for humanitarian aid must be assured. He pledged France’s full support for a global mobilization to stem the threat of famine.