More than half the wheat exported under the Ukraine-Russia agreement had gone to Africa. (AP)
- 60% of Yemen’s population ‘acutely food insecure’: UN emergency relief coordinator
- UAE envoy: ‘The Houthis need to end all violations of the current humanitarian truce’
NEW YORK: Millions of people are facing the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity as a result of armed conflict, the UN Security Council was told on Thursday.
The UNSC meeting on the “protection of civilians in armed conflict” was requested by Brazil and Ireland to discuss the “white note” on conflict and hunger.
On May 24, 2018, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called on the secretary-general to report to the council “swiftly when there was a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict.”
That risk, the report said, was now a reality, with “armed conflict and violence the primary drivers of these risks” in South Sudan, Yemen, northeast Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Martin Griffiths, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator at the UN, said seven years of armed conflict in Yemen had left some 19 million people — 60 percent of the population — “acutely food insecure.”
In South Sudan, he said, 63 percent of the population, or 7.7 million people, were projected to be in crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity this year.
“Assessments project that 87,000 people, mostly in Jonglei State and Greater Pibor Administrative Area, could face catastrophe,” he added.
In Ethiopia, he said, more than 13 million people need life-saving food assistance across the regions of Afar, Amhara and Tigray.
“In June, 87 percent of people surveyed in Tigray were food insecure, more than half of them severely so,” Griffiths added.
He said hunger was used as a “tactic of war,” something humanitarian organizations were trying to combat by working with local groups who were the first, sometimes only, “responders on the ground. But too often, we face interference, impediments, harassment and attacks on our staff, and looting or diversion of our assets.”
Griffiths added: “This prevents us from reaching people in need, and it makes their suffering worse. Humanitarians will stay and deliver, but the conditions in some contexts are unacceptable.”
South Sudan, he said, was “one of the most dangerous places to be an aid worker last year, with 319 violent incidents targeting humanitarian personnel and assets.”
He said five aid workers were killed in 2021 — five more have died since the beginning of this year.
Griffiths called on member states to commit to peaceful and negotiated resolutions to conflicts and other situations of violence.
He said states and armed groups needed to be “reminded and encouraged to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
He added that all parties must protect all objects that are essential for the survival of civilians, “and ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief.”
Griffiths called for the support of an “integrated response to address the underlying drivers of acute food insecurity,” and of “the economies of countries facing severe, large-scale hunger.”
The report called for humanitarian financing to be sustained, saying: “In all these countries, we are well below half of the required funding. Without the resources we need, we cannot operate at the scale we should.”
Maximo Torero, chief economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, confirmed that hunger has been increasing significantly in recent years, which he said was exacerbated by several factors, including conflict, climate change, and a rise in inequality that had worsened since COVID-19.
“All these,” he said, “have been exacerbated by a rise in food prices.” Conflict, he added, “has a direct impact” on food insecurity by reducing food production, destroying crops and restricting access to food.
“In the long term, conflict leads to the complete loss of livelihoods, supply chain disruptions, mass displacement, and increased pressure on resources.”
Torero said the global economy was also hit by conflict, pushing up inflation. And he warned that by the end of this year, 205 million people would face acute food insecurity.
“When the council speaks, the world listens. Preventing conflict is the most effective means of preventing famine,” he said.
David Beasly, executive director at the UN World Food Programme, said he had seen first-hand the impact that unrest and conflict could have on entire communities when he visited Central America.
“I saw how conflict thousands of miles away is adding fuel to the flames of what is already a severe hunger crisis on another continent,” he said, adding that soaring prices of grain, fuel and fertilizer had left people “absolutely in despair.”
Beasly said: “These people, they literally have nothing left. They can stay and starve, or they can leave and risk death, for the chance of a better future in the United States.”
In Yemen, he said, the humanitarian situation continued to decline.
Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, held the Houthis fully responsible for the ongoing suffering of civilians in Taiz.
“On Yemen, we reiterate that the Houthis need to end all violations of the current humanitarian truce and fully implement it to see a way through this,” she said, adding that the ongoing blockades of roads into Taiz were “perpetuating great hardships for the civilian population.”
Responding to the report, Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, blamed Western countries for a failure to deliver Russian grain to countries most in need, which Moscow claims is due to Western-imposed sanctions.
“The idea repeated by the EU and the USA that their sanctions are not impeding the export of food and fertilizer is not in line with reality,” Nebenzya said.
“These restrictions are complicating banking transactions, including banks that are systemically important for Russia’s agriculture sector, where current accounts are simply being closed.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s response to Russia was clear: “End the war (in Ukraine).”
UK Ambassador James Kariuki said the millions at risk of starvation in South Sudan and Yemen was a matter of “deep concern,” and there continued to be attacks on humanitarian workers.
“In that regard,” he added, “let me reiterate the importance of continued implementation of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Deal, which has contributed to a 5.1 percent decrease in global wheat prices.”
He said 23,000 tons of Ukrainian grain were delivered to Djibouti last month, “some of which has already entered Ethiopia.”
Responding to Moscow’s claims of Western food sanctions against Russia, Kariuki said: “I’m sure briefers will respond to some of the wild claims … There were no sanctions on food and fertilizer.”
He added that more than half the wheat exported under the agreement had gone to Africa. He concluded by saying: “As my US colleagues said, none of this would be needed if Russia ended its illegal war.”