posted on Mon 20 Apr 2020 9:53 PM
Protection of Civilians from Conflict-Induced Hunger

On Tuesday (21 April), the Security Council will hold an open videoconference meeting on the “Protection of civilians from conflict-induced hunger”. Briefings are expected by the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Qu Dongyu; the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley; and the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland.  Council members have been negotiating a draft presidential statement, including throughout the day today, but it seems unlikely that the text will  be agreed on by tomorrow. This will be the first meeting, since the Council began working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which Council members’ statements will be webcast.

Background and Briefing

The Security Council has increased its engagement in recent years on the link between conflict and hunger, starting in 2017 when the Secretary-General warned member states of the threat of four famines in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. A Council presidential statement in August 2017 deplored the failure of certain parties in these conflicts to ensure unfettered and sustained access for deliveries of vital food assistance and other aid, and called on member states to provide resources and funding to avert famine.

In March 2018, at the Netherlands’ initiative, a Council briefing considered more broadly the rising trend in food insecurity and conflict, in which almost two-thirds or 500 million people of the world’s hungry were in countries affected by conflict. On 24 May 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2417 that “recalls the link between armed conflict and violence and conflict-induced food insecurity and the threat of famine”. Resolution 2417 strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access. It urged all parties to protect civilian infrastructure critical to the delivery of aid and to ensure the proper functioning of food systems. It further requested the Secretary-General to report swiftly to the Council when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict and to brief every 12 months on the resolution’s implementation in connection with his annual briefing on the protection of civilians. Over the next few months, citing resolution 2417, OCHA alerted the Council to rising food insecurity in two white papers on South Sudan (August 2018) and Yemen (October 2018).

Tomorrow’s session is at the initiative of the Dominican Republic, this month’s Council president, which has sought to maintain Council follow up and attention to the issue of conflict-induced hunger. Since joining the Council in January 2019, the Dominican Republic has organised, with Germany, informal briefings in January and September 2019 and January 2020 to consider the bi-annual joint update of the FAO and WFP that has been published since 2017, entitled “Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations”.

The concept note for the meeting notes that war and conflict drive food insecurity by destroying farms, roads and ports, crippling economic stability, and disrupting humanitarian access, and by conflict parties committing gross violations of international humanitarian law, including the use of starvation as a method of war. The concept note notes that food insecurity can likewise become a trigger for violence and instability while interventions to improve food insecurity and nutrition can contribute to maintaining peace. Increased hunger has become a push factor for migration and recruitment by terrorist groups, moreover.

The briefers are likely to refer to findings in The Global Report on Food Crises 2020 (GRFC) that is being published tomorrow. The report is expected to show that the number of people facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse increased during 2019, based on the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system used by the FAO, WFP and other partner organisations to monitor food insecurity. Briefers are likely to note that conflict and insecurity were the main drivers of food crises in 2019, while weather and economic shocks also became increasingly significant factors. Seven of last year’s ten worst food crises are on the Council’s agenda: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Two of the other top ten crises are country situations that the Council has discussed periodically: Nigeria and Venezuela.

Speakers are further expected to highlight the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on civilians already suffering from hunger as a result of conflict, as it could possibly double the number of people world-wide facing crisis levels of food insecurity. A WFP analysis last week of the economic and food security implications of the pandemic identified interruptions to the supply chain and trade that could especially affect African countries and the Middle East.

In addition, the concept note outlines several questions that briefers and members may wish to address:

  • What is needed for a more comprehensive implementation of Security Council resolution 2417, including tools available to Council members?
  • How can peacekeeping operations and special political missions be harnessed to prevent and mitigate conflict-induced hunger?
  • What kind of actions do humanitarian organisations need from the Security Council to enable them to address the needs of people affected by conflict-induced hunger?
  • What early warning capabilities does the Security Council require in order to respond early, and what institutional measures could help to improve existing capacity?

Some members may highlight the need for the Secretary-General to pay more attention to conflict-induced hunger when he provides his annual briefing on the protection of civilians; neither last year’s briefing nor his annual protection of civilians report provided much information on this issue.

Draft Presidential Statement

The Dominican Republic circulated a draft presidential statement at the beginning of April, largely  based on resolution 2417 in apparent recognition that a product going much beyond the May 2018 resolution would be difficult for some members to accept. Two virtual rounds of negotiations were held before the draft text was placed under a silence procedure from the evening of 15 April to 17 April. Russia first broke silence, following which several other delegations submitted proposals. Members have held meetings this morning and afternoon in an attempt to reach agreement. Late this evening, consensus had not been reached.

Negotiations have proven difficult due to a divide between members that want a Council product that reaffirms resolution 2417 and advances the issue of conflict-induced hunger, including the effect of climate change on many food crises driven by conflict, and other members that are not keen on having the  issue of conflict and hunger as a thematic issue in the Council. It appears unlikely that there will be agreement on the draft presidential statement by tomorrow’s meeting, and it is unclear how the Dominican Republic will proceed with the proposed text following the meeting.