posted on Thu 15 Jun 2017 3:46 PM
Arria-Formula Meeting on the Risk of Famine in Conflict-Affected Areas

On Friday (16 June), Security Council members will hold an Arria-formula open meeting on the risk of famine in the conflict-affected areas of north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. The session is being co-hosted by the A3 (the three African members: Egypt, Ethiopia and Senegal), the Council’s EU delegations (France, Italy, Sweden and the UK), Japan and the US. Briefings are expected from Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Franck Bousquet, Senior Director of the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group of the World Bank; and Andrea Tamburini, CEO of the non-governmental organisation Action Against Hunger. The session is open to the wider UN membership, civil society and media.

Tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting has been organised by the co-hosts in response to the Secretary-General’s 21 February letter to Council members, highlighting the global food crisis and the risk of famine in these four countries unless decisive action is taken. As noted in the concept note for the meeting, two weeks after the Secretary-General sent his letter, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on his recent visits to Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, and on the 24 February Oslo donor conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin. O’Brien told the Council that the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the UN’s establishment.

The meeting envisages having members assess the humanitarian situations in these four countries four months after the Secretary-General’s warning and call for action, as well as to identify opportunities and actions that the Council and UN system can take to facilitate the international response in these countries. The concept note describes the situation in all four countries as constituting a major protection crisis. It highlights how these four food crises are largely the result of conflict, and that relief efforts are hindered by access constraints due to ongoing violence as well as the need for more humanitarian financing.

In north-east Nigeria, which Council members visited in early March, 5.2 million people are food insecure. This is the result of the more than seven-year long conflict with the terrorist group Boko Haram, which has uprooted people from their communities and livelihoods in the poorest region of Nigeria, and continues to severely limit access across Borno State. It is believed that last year parts of Borno State suffered famine, and the UN estimates that 65,000 people live in famine-like conditions.

In Somalia, persistent insecurity and a drought have caused the number of acutely food-insecure Somalis to rise by half a million to 6.7 million people between February and May 2017. The drought has also been attributed to the displacement of 739,000 people since November 2016. In the Horn of Africa overall, 26.5 million people are food insecure, including in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

In South Sudan, 100,000 people are already experiencing famine with another 1 million considered on the verge of famine. In total, 5.5 million people (nearly half the population) face severe food insecurity after three-and-half years of civil war.

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with 17 million people who are food insecure and 6.8 million at risk of famine. It imported 90% of its food prior to the war and restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on commercial shipping over the last two years, which it says are to enforce the Council-authorised arms embargo, have contributed significantly to the humanitarian crisis. Houthi rebels and forces of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have also imposed access constraints, notably in their siege of Taiz City. The food crisis and challenges in distributing aid have been further exacerbated by damage to Yemen’s infrastructure and the near collapse of the economy.

Humanitarian operations in the four countries require more than $6.3 billion in 2017, according to OCHA. Of this, $4.9 billion is needed for life-saving assistance, of which just $1.9 billion has been received. At the country level, according to OCHA’s 9 June Funding Update, Nigeria’s humanitarian relief plan is 28% funded; Somalia’s 36%, South Sudan’s 47%, and Yemen’s 29%.

As outlined in the concept note, Mohammed will provide an update on these four situations since the Secretary-General’s letter. She is also expected to provide her assessment of other countries at high risk of becoming food insecure, and present ideas for how the UN system and member states can work together to address factors hampering short-term and long-term responses.

Bousquet’s briefing will cover the World Bank’s work in these four countries as well as in other countries facing food security challenges. Other elements of his briefing will likely include the World Bank’s analysis that zero tolerance for famine is achievable and what it takes to accomplish this, while elaborating on how the World Bank seeks to complement the efforts of humanitarian partners by addressing root causes and supporting countries to build social protection systems and institutional and societal resilience. Tamburini is expected to share the challenges faced by Action Against Hunger, an international non-governmental organisation working on the ground to address food crises, including in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

In their interventions, members are likely to focus on issues related to access and funding. Regarding access obstacles, some members could highlight the need to ensure that the warring parties comply with international humanitarian law and present ideas for the Council to achieve this. As these four food crises are largely the result of conflict and reflect failure on the part of the Council, it seems that its organisers hope the session will cause members to reflect on and commit to preventing such situations in future conflicts that the Council addresses. In this regard, some members may highlight the importance of the Council integrating issues related to food insecurity more firmly in its work. Members are likely to stress the need for political solutions to overcome access constraints.

Among other issues, members may raise the need for enhanced cooperation between humanitarian and development partners, such as partnerships between humanitarian actors and the World Bank or regional development banks, to meet the funding challenges of these situations. They could also discuss the importance of public-private partnerships. In the case of the Yemen conflict, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism was set up to facilitate commercial shipping to the country out of a recognition that humanitarian assistance could only ever cover a limited proportion of the imported food, fuel and medicine that Yemen depends on.