Food insecurity threatens societies, exacerbates conflicts and ‘no country is immune’

19 May 2022

“When war is waged, people go hungry,” Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday during a debate on conflict and food security chaired by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Some 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict he said, adding that “no country is immune”.

Conflict means hunger

Last year, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger around the world lived in just ten countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – eight of which are on the Council’s agenda.

“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,” Mr. Guterres spelled out.

Though pleased to announce that the Central Emergency Response Fund is releasing $30 million to meet food security needs in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, he said sadly: “But it is a drop in the ocean”. 

Emergency levels of hunger

The UN chief expressed concern over food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, which is suffering its longest drought in four decades, impacting more than 18 million people, while continuous conflict and insecurity plague the people of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Globally, 44 million people in 38 countries are at emergency levels of hunger, known as IPC 4 – just one step away from famine.

More than half a million people in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen and Madagascar are already in IPC level 5: catastrophic or famine conditions.

‘Frightening new dimension’

The war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger,” said the UN chief.

Russia’s invasion has meant a huge drop in food exports and triggered price increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods, threatening people in countries across Africa and the Middle East.

Leaders of Senegal, Niger and Nigeria confirmed to Mr. Guterres that they were on the brink of devastation.

While UN humanitarian operations are gearing up to help, they too are suffering the impact of rising food prices, including in East Africa where the cost of food assistance has increased 65 per cent on average, in the past year.

Feeding the hungry is an investment in global peace and security – UN chief

Breaking ‘deadly dynamic’

The top UN official outlined four actions countries can take to break “the deadly dynamic of conflict and hunger,” beginning with investing 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,” he said, calling on the Council to do everything in its power “to silence the guns and promote peace, in Ukraine and everywhere”.

Secondly, he underscored the importance of protecting humanitarian access and essential goods and supplies for civilians, drawing attention to the members’ “critical role in demanding adherence to international humanitarian law, and pursuing accountability when it is breached”.

Third, he said there needed to be “far greater coordination and leadership” to mitigate the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy and financing, while reminding that “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”.

Finally, it is “more necessary than ever” for donors must fully fund humanitarian appeals with official development assistance.

“Diverting it to other priorities is not an option while the world is on the brink of mass hunger…Feeding the hungry is an investment in global peace and security,” said the Secretary-General.

In a world of plenty, no one should accept “a single child, woman or man” dying from hunger, including “the members of this Council”, he concluded.

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a Security Council meeting on conflict and food security, chaired by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right).
UN/ Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a Security Council meeting on conflict and food security, chaired by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right).

‘Declaration of war’ on food security

The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, spoke extensively of “the perfect storm” driving hunger, namely conflict, climate change and the COVID pandemic.

He said the failure by Russia to open the ports in southern Ukraine to grain and other agricultural exports, would be "a declaration of war on global food security, and it will result in famine and destabilization, and mass migration around the world."

Act with urgency today – WFP chief

He cited destabilizing dynamics in Mali, Chad, Malawi, and Burkina Faso; riots and protests in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan and Peru; conflicts in Ethiopia and Afghanistan; drought and famine in Africa, and a “ring of fire around the world” as an escalating number of people continue “marching to starvation”.

Food security is critical to peace and stability” globally, he underscored.

The WFP chief said 276 million people are struggling to find food, and 49 million in 43 countries are “knocking on famine’s door,” which results not only in death but “unmatched migration,” which destabilizes societies.

And while the “perfect storm” has resulted in a rise in food prices in 2022, he said that food availability would be the big concern in 2023.

Mr. Beasley stressed the importance of increasing production, opening Ukraine’s ports and emptying its silos to stabilize markets and address the global food crisis.

“Act with urgency today,” he told the Council.

Reversing prosperity

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director-General, Qu Dongyu, discussed the importance of people, peace, prosperity and the planet.

Worldwide, prosperity is being reversed,” he said. “There is less food security, health security and income” while inequality becomes greater.

He pointed to a “spike in acute hunger globally,” with 2022 threatening even further deterioration.

While FAO has strengthened agri-food systems to save lives and protect livelihoods for the most vulnerable, “more needs to be done together,” according to its top official, who called conflict “the single greatest driver of hunger”.

Protect thy neighbour

Meanwhile, the Ukraine war is impacting the world with “historically high” food and energy prices, according to Mr. Qu – “putting the global harvest at risk”.

He reminded that we “are neighbours on this small planet village. What happens to one affects us all” and flagged the need to prevent accelerated acute food insecurity in the coming months and years.

We must protect people, agriculture food system and economics against future shock…increase sustainable productivity, [and] strengthen the capacity to deliver relevant services,” said Mr. Qu.

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, briefs the Security Council meeting on conflict and food security under maintenance of international peace and security.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, briefs the Security Council meeting on conflict and food security under maintenance of international peace and security.

‘Play our part’

Nobody needs to go hungry “if we all play our part”, he added, describing investing in agri-food systems as “more relevant than ever”.

Ending his remarks with a poem in Chinese, the FAO chief said:

“The mountain is high. People depend on food to survive. We need to stay united, working cohesively to serve millions of people around the world”.

Click here to watch the meeting in its entirety.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.