“When war is waged, people go hungry,” UN 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”.
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,” 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”.
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.
“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 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.
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 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.
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”.