Forty-Nine Million People in 43 Countries One Step Away from Famine, Secretary-General Warns in Briefing to Security Council on Conflict, Food Security

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ briefing to the Security Council on conflict and food security in New York today:

When war is waged, people go hungry.  Some 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict.  No country is immune.  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.  I thank the United States Government for focusing on this crucial issue during its presidency of the Council.

Last year, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger around the world lived in just 10 countries:  Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  Eight of these countries are on the agenda of this Council.  Let there be no doubt:  when this Council debates conflict, you debate hunger.  When you make decisions about peacekeeping and political missions, you make decisions about hunger.  And when you fail to reach consensus, hungry people pay a high price.

At its most basic level, armed conflict creates hunger when fighting destroys farms and factories, drives people from their crops, creates shortages, and pushes up prices.  Today, the impact of conflict is being amplified by the climate crisis and economic insecurity, heightened by the pandemic.  As a result, decades of progress on hunger are being reversed.

I saw this for myself during my visit to the Sahel two weeks ago.  Take Niger, which faces extremist armed groups and cross-border incursions from Mali and Nigeria.  Just 6 per cent of its population is fully immunized against COVID-19.  While Niger scores lowest of every country on the Human Development Index, it is in the top 10 countries vulnerable to the climate crisis.

The number of acutely food-insecure people in Niger has more than doubled in the past two years.  Unless action is taken now, it could rise to 4 million this year.  Niger and its neighbours urgently need a large-scale, coordinated international mobilization that strengthens the links between peace, humanitarian action, adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and sustainable development.

To help respond to this growing crisis, I am pleased to announce today that we are releasing $30 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF, to meet urgent food security and nutrition needs in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso.  But it is a drop in the ocean.  This brings to almost $95 million the funding channelled through CERF to the Sahel since the start of the year.

I am also 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.

Around the world, 49 million people in 43 countries are at emergency levels of hunger, known as IPC 4 — just one step away from famine.  In other words, they are facing starvation and are doing everything they can to survive.  As always, women and girls are worst affected, and this is reflected in rising rates of trafficking, forced marriage and other abuses.  More than half a million people in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen and Madagascar are already at so-called IPC level 5, which means catastrophic or famine conditions.

The war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger.  Russia’s invasion of its neighbour has effectively ended its food exports.  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.  I discussed this deeply troubling situation with the leaders of Senegal, Niger and Nigeria during my last visit.  They confirmed we are on the brink of a perfect storm that threatens to devastate people and economies.

Our humanitarian operations are gearing up to help, backed by a proven record of success.  Humanitarian agencies and their partners helped to bring six counties in South Sudan back from the brink of famine last year.  They also prevented the worst outcomes over the past six years of conflict in Yemen, where food aid reached more than 10 million people a month in 2021.  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.

I believe there are four actions countries can take now to break the deadly dynamic of conflict and hunger.

First, investment in political solutions to end conflicts, prevent new ones and build sustainable peace.  Most important of all, we need to end the war in Ukraine.  I call on all Council members to do everything in your power to silence the guns and promote peace, in Ukraine and everywhere.

Second, international humanitarian law, reflected in resolution 2417 of this Council, specifies that goods and supplies that are essential to civilians’ survival — including food, crops and livestock — must be protected.  It also states that humanitarians must have unimpeded access to civilians in need.  This Council has a critical role in demanding adherence to international humanitarian law, and pursuing accountability when it is breached.  I urge you to take maximum action to fulfil your role.

Third, the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy and financing require far greater coordination and leadership.  There is enough food for everyone in the world.  The issue is distribution and it is deeply linked to the war in Ukraine.

I established the Global Crisis Response Group on food, energy and finance in March to provide data and analysis and propose solutions.  The Group immediately recommended that all food export restrictions should be lifted; strategic reserves should be released; and surpluses allocated to countries in need.

As I told yesterday’s Call to Action ministerial meeting, any meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets — despite the war.  We are working to find a package deal that will enable Ukraine to export food, not only by train but through the Black Sea, and will bring Russian food and fertilizer production to world markets, without restrictions.  This will require the goodwill of all countries concerned.

Fourth, donors must fund humanitarian appeals in full.  Almost halfway into 2022, our Global Humanitarian Response Plans are just 8 per cent funded.  In global terms, these are minuscule amounts.  I urge countries to demonstrate the same generosity to all countries that has been shown in relation to Ukraine.

Official development assistance is more necessary than ever.  Diverting it to other priorities is not an option while the world is on the brink of mass hunger.  Indeed, the deep connections between conflict and hunger mean that generosity is not only an act of altruism.  Feeding the hungry is an investment in global peace and security.

In our world of plenty, I will never accept the death of a single child, woman or man from hunger.  Neither should the members of this Council.

For information media. Not an official record.