May 19, 2022– Some 49 million people in 43 countries are one step away from famine, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned in a briefing to the Security Council on conflict and food security.
By Annegret Mathari, Geneva
“When war is waged, people go hungry,” Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday during a discussion on conflict and food security chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Some 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict.
“In April the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners distributed food and cash to more than 3 million Ukrainians. Until March, their country was feeding the world with abundant supplies of food,” Guterres said. He thanked the United States government for focusing on this issue during its presidency of the Security Council.
In 2021, according to Guterres, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger around the world lived in just 10 countries: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Eight of these countries are on the agenda of the Security Council. There is no doubt, the Secretary General stressed, that when this council discusses conflict, it is discussing hunger.
He announced that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is releasing 30 million dollars to meet urgent food security needs in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger. “But this is a drop in the ocean”, he declared.
“Deeply concerned” by situation in Horn of Africa
The Secretary-General said also that he was “deeply concerned” by the food security situation in the Horn of Africa, which is suffering the longest drought in four decades. More than 18 million people are affected, and the World Food Programme warns that millions of people in Somalia face famine within months. “The perilous state of food security in Ethiopia and Somalia is compounded by continued conflict and deep insecurity,” Guterres said.
Around the world, 49 million people in 43 countries are at emergency levels of hunger – just one step away from famine, according to the Secretary-General. “The war in Ukraine is adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger.” With Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, price increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods threaten people in countries across Africa and the Middle East, including Cameroon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
United Nations humanitarian operations are gearing up, but humanitarians are also suffering the impact of rising food prices. In East Africa, the cost of food assistance has increased on average 65 per cent in the past year. WFP has already been forced to reduce its support to 8 million hungry people in Yemen.
To break “the deadly dynamic of conflict and hunger”, Guterres outlined four actions countries can take. “Most important of all, we need to end the war in Ukraine,” he said, calling on all Security Council members to do everything in their power to “silence the guns and promote peace, in Ukraine and everywhere”.
Second, he stressed the importance of protecting goods and supplies that are essential to civilians’ survival, drawing attention to the members’ “critical role in demanding adherence to international humanitarian law, and pursuing accountability when it is breached”.
As a third point, Guterres said that the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy and financing require far greater coordination and leadership. “There is enough food for everyone in the world,” he said. The challenge is distribution, and it is linked to the war in Ukraine.
And, fourth, donors must fund humanitarian appeals in full, the Secretary General said. Almost halfway into 2022, the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan was only eight per cent funded. “In our world of plenty, I will never accept the death of a single child, woman or man from hunger,” he said, adding that neither should the members of the Security Council.
War on food security
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme noted: “When a country like Ukraine, which provides food for 400 million people, is out of the market, it creates market volatility.”
The United Nations is trying to reach people inside Ukraine, but this does not solve the problem outside that country, he pointed out, stressing the need to get ports open and running – with 36 countries importing more than 50 per cent of their grain from that region. Failure to open the ports in the Odessa region is a declaration of war on global food security, he warned. It will result in famines, destabilization and mass migration around the world.