Action Against Hunger CEO addresses UN Security Council on Famine Risk in Four Countries

Photo: Andrew Parsons for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

The following are the remarks delivered by Action Against Hunger CEO Andrea Tamburini to the UN Security Council on June 16, 2017, for the Security Council Arria-Formula Open Meeting on “Responding to the Secretary General’s Call to Action on the Risk of Famine in the conflict-affected areas of Yemen, Somalia, South-Sudan and Northeast Nigeria."

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Thank you very much to the co-hosts of this very timely discussion on the response to famine threats in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian NGO working in 50 countries to end hunger through an integrated, multisectoral approach.  We provide nutrition, food security and livelihoods, and water, sanitation and hygiene support.  We have been operating in Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia for many years and we are currently assisting 4.3 million conflict-affected people in all four countries.  This is a drop in the ocean compared to the magnitude of the needs.  Thirty million people in the four countries could die from hunger if they don’t receive adequate assistance.

These man-made crises are fueled by conflict. The only long-term solutions are political.  We find ourselves responding in these contexts because political processes have failed.

The conduct of hostilities and the lack of respect for international humanitarian law are clearly linked to the widespread, acute food insecurity we are currently witnessing.  State and non-state armed actors deliberately target civilians and civilian infrastructure, destroy livelihoods as a tactic, trigger large-scale displacement, and deny populations access to humanitarian assistance. 

Our access is challenged on a daily basis, whether by insecurity or bureaucratic impediments.  There are contexts where our staff are routinely denied visas.  There are contexts in which our staff are routinely harassed, intimidated, arrested and killed--often with the knowledge of government actors.  Humanitarian actors are attacked with impunity.

There are many situations in which we are unable to get the necessary authorizations to deliver humanitarian assistance. There are contexts where we are unable to import the necessary supplies to save lives. Barriers to importing critical food, essential medicines, and life-saving nutritional supplies are devastating. In the best case, imports into most of the countries threatened by famine take three to four months.  Even when supplies arrive in country, they often languish in customs.   

Insecurity further limits our team's ability to deliver supplies, such as ready-to-use therapeutic foods and drugs in conflict-affected areas.  Our teams tell us that road transport is often impossible, as transporters are often attacked and robbed.  Our Country Directors say that air cargo is their last-ditch hope for delivery of these vital relief supplies. But the few planes willing to risk landing in these dangerous areas are exorbitantly expensive, ultimately reducing the relief we are able to provide.

Conflict has destroyed people’s livelihoods. In some cases, people’s productive assets are deliberately targeted. Markets aren't functioning, and food prices are increasing.  Economic systems are stalled.  Basic services have broken down. Disease outbreaks are rising.

In all four contexts, populations severely affected by acute food insecurity have no choice but to leave their homes and move close to towns or cities in search of food and water.  But our teams on the ground tell us that insecurity is a barrier for displaced populations fleeing to urban areas: displaced people tell our staff that they are afraid, and cannot travel freely to areas where their urgent needs can be met. 

In some cases, armed actors and governments prohibit people from fleeing, deliberately cutting them off from humanitarian assistance.  In some of the contexts where we operate, displaced people and refugees are forced to return to their areas of origin—where conflict is ongoing and where they lack access to livelihoods or basic assistance.

Vulnerable people, especially women and girls, are forced to trade sex for food.  Sexual exploitation and abuse by armed actors, government officials is widespread.    

Action Against Hunger is guided by the humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality, impartiality, and humanity.  We are concerned that our ability to deliver a principled humanitarian response is constantly threatened.  Linking humanitarian assistance to political and security agendas is unacceptable and undermines our ability to support populations based on need, regardless of their location or origin.  Three of the four global food crises are happening in contexts where the UN is also a major political actor in the fight against terrorism, consequently blurring the lines between political and humanitarian mandates. The domestic counter-terrorism legislation of our donors also raises concerns about our ability to respond in a principled manner—and to access affected areas

Both the Deputy Secretary General and the World Bank colleague have mentioned the humanitarian-development nexus and the importance of long-term development in averting these crises.  I couldn’t agree more. But I would also like to underscore the necessity of delivering short-term, lifesaving humanitarian assistance based on needs and the importance of humanitarian principles in these four conflict contexts.

The Humanitarian Response Plans for the four contexts are only 38% funded. The need for donors to fulfill their Grand Bargain commitments is urgent. Lack of funding has forced Action Against Hunger to suspend or reduce lifesaving food and water assistance to thousands of families.  Our teams are faced with the impossible choice of either cutting rations in order to provide less assistance to the same number of people, or providing adequate rations to fewer people.    

Our experience has shown us that when we have adequate access, security and funding to provide assistance, we can save lives. In all four countries, in our areas of intervention, we can see improvements in nutrition indicators within months.

But humanitarian assistance should only be a short-term band aid. Peace is the only real solution to the crises in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries experiencing conflict and widespread food insecurity. The Security Council bears collective responsibility for supporting and facilitating inclusive, political dialogue.  The Security Council also bears some  responsibility for supporting governments in meeting their duty  to protect and assist their citizens.  National governments must be held accountable for complying with their commitments to international humanitarian law and human rights laws.  Lastly, Security Council members are also donors: it is imperative that humanitarian organizations get the funding necessary to save lives.

Thank you very much to the organizers of this timely conversation. We have not seen crises of this magnitude for decades. I'm optimistic that our discussion here today will lead to concrete outcomes for civilians in crisis—and yield progress toward the Secretary General’s Call to Action.  

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About Andrea Tamburini

Andrea Tamburini

Andrea Tamburini is the CEO of Action Against Hunger-USA.