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.”
UNSC calls for ‘immediate reversal’ of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot decision on Varosha
The Security Council said in a statement released on Friday that settling any part of the abandoned Cypriot suburb of Varosha, “by people other than its inhabitants, is “inadmissible”.
The presidential statement approved by all 15 Security Council members, upheld that “no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha, that are not in accordance with its resolutions”.
“The Security Council condemns the announcement in Cyprus by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders on 20 July 2021 on the further reopening of part of the fenced-off area of Varosha”, the statement continued.
“The Security Council expresses its deep regret regarding these unilateral actions that run contrary to its previous resolutions and statements.”
The statement calls for “the immediate reversal of this course of action and the reversal of all steps taken on Varosha since October 2020.”
The statement followed a closed-door briefing earlier in the day by the outgoing UN Special Representative, Elizabeth Spehar.
The Mediterranean island has been divided between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities for 47 years, and a Security Council resolution of 1964 recommended the establishment of a peacekeeping force to maintain law and order and help end inter-communal strife.
According to news reports, on Wednesday, Greek Cypriot leaders appealed to the Council over plans by Turkish Cypriot authorities to revert a 1.35 square-mile section of Varosha, from military to civilian control, and open it for potential resettlement.
The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is backed by Turkey, made the initial announcement a day earlier, that part of the suburb would come under civilian control.
On Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his deep concern over Wednesday’s announcements by Turkey and Turkish-Cypriot leaders, on re-opening Varosha, and said that the UN’s position “remains unchanged and is guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions”.
In a statement issued by his Deputy Spokesperson, Farhan Haq, Mr. Guterres called on all sides “to refrain from any unhelpful actions and to engage in dialogue to bring peace and prosperity to the island through a comprehensive settlement”.
“The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions and may compromise the ongoing efforts to seek common ground between the parties towards a lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue”.
The Security Council statement concluded with a reaffirmation of its commitment “to an enduring, comprehensive and just settlement, in accordance with the wishes of the Cypriot people, and based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation, with political equality”.
Myanmar: From political crisis, to ‘multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe’
What began as a coup by the Myanmar military has ‘rapidly morphed’ into an all-out attack against the civilian population that has become increasingly widespread and systematic, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned on Tuesday.
Speaking at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet reiterated that the situation in the country has evolved from a political crisis in early February to a “multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe”, repeating a formulation she first used a month ago.
Since the coup, nearly 900 people have been killed while around 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of violent military raids on neighbourhoods and villages.
“Suffering and violence throughout the country are devastating prospects for sustainable development and raise the possibility of State failure or a broader civil war”, she cautioned.
Ms. Bachelet explained that the catastrophic developments since February have had a severe and wide-ranging impact on human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development.
“They are generating clear potential for massive insecurity, with fallout for the wider region”.
The UN High Commissioner urged the international community to stand united in pressuring the military to halt its continuing attacks on the people of Myanmar and return the country to democracy, reflecting the ‘clear will of the people’.
The UN must act
She said the UN system must not fail the country a second time”, she added, citing the 2019 review of UN action in the country, by Gert Rosenthal.
She also advised swift action to restore a working democracy before the human rights situation in the country deteriorates further.
“This should be reinforced by Security Council action. I urge all States to act immediately to give effect to the General Assembly’s call to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”, Ms. Bachelet said.
Hunger, violence and poverty
Ms. Bachelet said COVID had had a ‘disastrous’ impact on an economy that relied on remittances, the garment industry and other sectors which have been devastated by the resultant global recession.
UN Agencies estimate that over 6 million people are severely in need of food aid and forecast that nearly half the population could fall into poverty by early 2022.
“A void has been opened for the most harmful – and criminal – forms of illicit economy to flourish”, she underscored.
Meanwhile, a countrywide general strike, combined with the widespread dismissal of civil servants – including educators and medical personnel – has cut off many essential services in the country.
Since 1 February, at least 240 attacks on health-care facilities, medical personnel, ambulances and patients have disabled COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination.
Intense violence and repression
She denounced indiscriminate airstrikes, shelling, civilian killings and mass displacement. Civil voices are also being silenced: over 90 journalists have been arrested and eight major media outlets shuttered.
“We have also received multiple reports of enforced disappearances; brutal torture and deaths in custody; and the arrest of relatives or children in lieu of the person being sought”, she said.
Despite the repression, the UN High Commissioner indicated that the military leadership has not successfully secured control of Myanmar, nor won the international recognition it seeks.
“On the contrary, its brutal tactics have triggered a national uprising that has changed the political equation”, she said.
She added that people across the country continue peaceful protests despite the massive use of lethal force, including heavy weaponry, and a ‘civil disobedience movement has brought many military-controlled government structures to a standstill’.
Some people, in many parts of Myanmar, have taken up arms and formed self-protection groups. These newly formed groups have launched attacks in several locations, to which the security forces have responded with disproportionate force, she noted.
“I am concerned that this escalation in violence could have horrific consequences for civilians. All armed actors must respect and protect human rights and ensure that civilians and civilian structures such as health centres and schools are protected”.
“Any future democratic government in Myanmar must have the authority to exercise effective civilian control over the military. The international community should build upon the range of international accountability mechanisms already engaged, until transitional justice measures also become genuinely possible at the national level”, the High Commissioner concluded.
Amid COVID job losses, ‘high food prices are hunger’s new best friend’
Job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with high food prices are making it hard for millions of families to get enough to eat, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.
WFP estimates that a record 270 million people worldwide are acutely food insecure or at high risk this year, a 40 per cent jump from 2020.
“High food prices are hunger’s new best friend. We already have conflict, climate and COVID-19 working together to push more people into hunger and misery. Now food prices have joined the deadly trio,” said Arif Husain, Chief Economist at the UN agency.
Food price inflation
WFP said countries more likely to experience high food price inflation are those that depend on food imports, or where climatic or conflict shocks could disrupt local food production, or those suffering from macro-economic fragility, with some of the highest price increases found in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, currency depreciation has further driven up local food prices in many countries, such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
WFP’s latest Market Monitor, which provides information on price changes for common staples, reveals that in Lebanon, where economic turmoil has accelerated over the past year, the average price of wheat flour was 50 per cent higher in March through May than in the previous three months. The year-on-year price rise was 219 per cent.
In war-torn Syria, cooking oil has increased by nearly 60 per cent, and by 440 per cent year-on-year.
Mozambique, which is confronting a conflict in the north, is among “high food price hotspots” in Africa. The price of cassava there shot up by 45 per cent in March through May, compared to the previous three months.
The picture is reflected across international markets, according to the Food Price Index published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
After rising for 12 consecutive months, food prices dropped slightly in June, reaching 124.6, which is just below the peak of 136.7 a decade ago. At the same time, the cost of a basic food basket has risen by more than 10 per cent in nine of the more than 80 countries where WFP operates.
Trouble for families
WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and its food assistance can make the difference between life or death for millions facing hunger.
While food price hikes directly impact the people it serves, they have also affected millions of families whose incomes have been decimated by the pandemic.
The crisis could push as many as 97 million people worldwide into poverty by the end of the year, according to the World Bank.
“If you’re a family that already spends two thirds of your income on food, hikes in the price of food already spell trouble. Imagine what they mean if you’ve already lost part or all of your income because of COVID-19,” said Mr. Husain.
WFP explained how high food prices affect its work, first by driving up the number of people who need help. At the same time, the cost of commodities for food assistance operations is increased, with the agency paying 13 per cent more for wheat during the first four months of the year than it did in 2020.
WFP is aiming to reach nearly 140 million people worldwide this year, its biggest operation ever.
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