Conflict drives hunger, and when that turns to famine, that then drives conflict, the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday, adding that “if you don’t feed people, you feed conflict”.
“When a country or region is gripped by conflict and hunger, they become mutually reinforcing…[and] cannot be resolved separately”, Secretary-General António Guterres said via videoconference to the meeting which focused on how conflict and food security are interlinked.
And when hunger meets inequality, climate shocks, sectarian and ethnic tensions, together with grievances over resources, they then “spark and drive conflict”.
At the same time, conflict forces people to leave their homes, land and jobs; disrupts agriculture and trade; reduces access to vital resources like water and electricity; and also drives hunger.
‘One step away’ from famine
At the end of 2020, more than 88 million people were suffering from acute hunger due to conflict and instability – a 20 per cent surge in one year – and 2021 projections point to a continuation of this “frightening trend”, according to the top UN official.
He warned the Council of multiple conflict-driven famines globally, with climate shocks and COVID-19 “adding fuel to the flames”.
“Without immediate action, millions of people will reach the brink of extreme hunger and death”, Mr Guterres said, noting that there are more than 30 million people in over three dozen countries, “just one step away” from famine.
He drew attention to hunger crises across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan while pointing out that reduced humanitarian access threatens food insecurity, including in Tigray, Ethiopia.
The UN chief spotlighted that hunger and death begin long before the highest levels of food insecurity.
“We must anticipate, and act now”, he said, informing Ambassadors that he was setting up a High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine, led by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock along with the World Food Programme (WFP), “to mobilize support to the most affected countries”.
Other Inter-Agency Standing Committee members will be involved as needed, including the World Health Organization, UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women.
Most serious concern
Against the backdrop that the more than 34 million people are already facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity, the UN chief recalled WFP’s $5.5 billion appeal “to avert catastrophe”.
“While all countries face some economic strain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the solution does not lie in cutting aid to starving children”, he said, adding that “the disappointing outcome” of last week’s pledging event for Yemen “cannot become a pattern”.
Starvation war tactic
Exemplifying how starvation has been used as a war tactic, including in Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar, the Secretary-General flagged it as “a war crime”.
He urged the Council to “take maximum action to seek accountability for these atrocious acts”, and to remind conflict parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Building a foundation
Addressing hunger is a “foundation for stability and peace”, said Mr. Guterres.
“We need to tackle both hunger and conflict, if we are to solve either”, he said, pointing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and particularly Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on Zero Hunger, as the blueprint to do so.
Noting that ending hunger requires political solutions to conflict, the UN chief urged all States to make that “a key foreign policy priority”.
“Do everything in your power to end violence, negotiate peace, and alleviate the hunger and suffering that afflict so many millions of people around the world”, he concluded. “There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century”.
‘Sliding toward the brink’
WFP chief David Beasley warned: “We are…sliding toward the brink of the abyss”.
‘Shocking’ food insecurity
- Yemen – 2.3 million children under five are projected to face acute malnutrition this year.
- South Sudan – 60 per cent of the population are increasingly hungry.
- DRC – nearly 21.8 million people faced acute hunger through last year.
- Afghanistan – nearly 17 million people, up for 13.9 million, are food insecure.
- Nigeria – 13 million currently, 8 million more than before.
- Syria – the figure is now over 12 million people, up from 9.3 million.
“Conflict and instability are powering a destructive new wave of famine that threatens to sweep across the world”, taking an “unimaginable” toll in human misery, he said.
And the cycle of violence, hunger and despair is encompassing increasingly more people with consequences – from economic deterioration to mass migration and starvation – affecting everyone.
Mr. Beasley noted that looming famine emergencies are primarily driven by conflict.
“Make no mistake: man-made conflict is the real culprit”, he upheld, adding that they are “entirely preventable”.
The WFP chief detailed that people facing dire situations, including in Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and drew special attention to South Sudan, where he told of “children being fed mud”.
Following up on the Secretary-General’s call for $5.5 billion, Mr. Beasely urged the Council members to open their “hearts, show compassion, and give generously”.
Looking beyond the immediate crisis, he underscored the need to invest in conflict prevention to ensure that desperate families are not “forced to the brink of survival by the bullet and the bomb”.
“Please, don’t ask us to choose which starving child lives, and which one dies. Let’s feed them all.”
Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns
Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.
These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained.
In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.
In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases.
Business as usual
Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.
By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.
As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”.
This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants.
Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.
In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers.
Clashes in Myanmar displace thousands
Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and regional armed groups, which have involved military airstrikes, have reportedly claimed the lives of at least 17 civilians in several parts of the country, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday.
In a humanitarian update, issued on Tuesday, the Office also noted unconfirmed reports of several thousand people fleeing the hostilities in recent days in the Kayin and Bago regions, in central Myanmar, near Yangon. A medical clinic is also reported to have been damaged in gunfire in a township in Mon state, also in the central part of the country.
An estimated 7,100 civilians are now internally displaced in the two regions due to indiscriminative attacks by the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), and the Karen National Union (KNU), as well as growing insecurity since December 2020, according to the update.
“UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] is engaging with partners on the ground to explore possibilities to deliver critical humanitarian assistance and support to the displaced. A further 3,848 people in Kayin State have crossed the border to Thailand since 27 March, due to fears of further hostilities in the area”, OCHA said.
The majority are believed to have returned to Myanmar with Thai authorities saying that 1,167 remain in Thailand as of 1 April, the Office added.
‘Deep concern’ over continued impact of the crisis
Meanwhile, the wider political crisis across Myanmar continues to hit life hard across the southeast Asian nation.
The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has received credible reports of at least 568 women, children and men, have been killed since the military coup on 1 February, though there are fears that total is likely much higher.
Concerns have also been raised over the impact on Myanmar’s health and education systems, as well as the long-term effects of the violence on children.
The longer the current situation of widespread violence continuous, the more it will contribute to a continuous state of distress and toxic stress for children, which can have a lifelong impact on their mental and physical health, senior UN officials warned last week.
Since 1 February, there have been at least 28 attacks against hospitals and health personnel and seven attacks against schools and school personnel, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at a press briefing at the UN Headquarters, in New York, on Tuesday.
“Attacks against health volunteers and against ambulances are preventing life-saving help from reaching civilians wounded by security forces,” he added.
UN agencies have also reported reported sharp increases in food and fuel prices in many parts of Myanmar, on the back of supply chain and market disruptions. Humanitarians worry that if the price trends continue, they will “severely undermine” the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.
Guterres: Use COVID-19 recovery to make inclusion ‘a reality’
Building a more inclusive and accessible world that recognizes the contributions of all people, including persons with disabilities must be a “key goal” as countries work to recover from COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General said on Friday, commemorating World Autism Awareness Day.
“The crisis has created new obstacles and challenges. But efforts to reignite the global economy offer an opportunity to reimagine the workplace to make diversity, inclusion and equity a reality”, Secretary-General António Guterres said.
“Recovery is also a chance to rethink our systems of education and training to ensure that persons with autism are afforded opportunities for realizing their potential”, he added.
Breaking ‘old habits’ crucial
Mr. Guterres also emphasized that breaking old habits will be crucial. For persons with autism, he added, access to decent work on an equal basis requires creating an enabling environment, along with reasonable accommodations.
“To truly leave no one behind in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, we must realize the rights of all persons with disabilities, including persons with autism, ensuring their full participation in social, cultural and economic life”, he said.
“Let us work together with all persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to find innovative solutions to recover better and build a better world for all.”
Inequalities worsened by COVID-19
Intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optimal development and well-being of persons with an ASD, WHO added, emphasizing the importance of monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child health care.
While some individuals with ASD are able to live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Persons with an ASD are also often subject to stigma and discrimination, including unjust deprivation of health care, education, protection under law, and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.
The World Day
The World Autism Awareness Day, to be commemorated annually on 2 April, was established in December 2007 by the UN General Assembly, which affirmed that “ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities is critical to achieving internationally agreed development goals”.
The General Assembly also highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate research and interventions for the growth and development of the individual, and called for efforts to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding children with autism.
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