Conflict and Hunger: How the UN and Member States can help to break the cycle

Remarks made by Veronique Andrieux, CEO of Action Against Hunger France, at the UN General Assembly 2018

Hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row, driven in part by conflict. On September 25, as part of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, representatives from several countries, UN agencies, and Action Against Hunger held a high-level discussion on conflict and food security, with a focus on the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2417, which establishes a link between hunger and conflict.

The meeting, called Exploring the Link Between Conflict and Global Hunger, was co-hosted by The Netherlands, the United States, the European Union, Sweden, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme. 

Humanitarian organizations Action Against Hunger, Concern, Norweigan Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision shared their recommendations to operationalize Resolution 2417 and to break the cycle of hunger and conflict in a briefing paper. Remarks were given by Secretary-General António Guterres, USAID Administrator Mark Green, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, CEO of Action Against Hunger France Véronique Andrieux, and more.

Below, find Ms. Andrieux's remarks as prepared.

On behalf of Action Against Hunger, I would like to echo the statements made here today about the importance of Security Council Resolution 2417 to prevent and eradicate conflict-induced hunger. It is indeed a historic resolution. We welcome the recognition that ending hunger depends on ending conflict. Indeed, humanitarian action and technical solutions can mitigate the effects of a food crisis. But we desperately need political solutions and we need to implement 2417, if we are to reverse the shameful upward trajectory of hungry people in the world—primarily resulting from conflict.

In passing Resolution 2417, the Security Council has recognized that hunger and conflict fuel each other in a vicious cycle, and that conflict-induced food insecurity is a threat to international peace and security. We deem it essential that UN Member States take the following four steps to break the cycle:

1. Improve early warning, to systematically identify starvation as a method of warfare and enable early response

We need to respond earlier and more effectively to food security crises. The current analytical tools that we use — namely the IPC (Integrated Phase Classification) and the Cadre Harmonise — are plagued by political and technical constraints. These tools are meant to be independent but, in reality, national governments can influence the collection and dissemination of data and analysis. It can then be difficult for actors to mount an effective and timely response, based on needs. There is a critical need for an independent, data-driven, early warning mechanism that can enable early action and prevent a further worsening of the situation.

2. Prioritize investment on food security, livelihoods, and resilience-building

The deliberate blockade, targeting or destruction of food, livelihoods, productive assets, markets, critical infrastructure necessary for people to farm and trade and earn a living is a tactic that is all too common in many of the countries in which we operate. By using economic warfare tactics, parties to conflict methodically erode local economies, force people to flee, collapse production, destroy livelihoods, and worsen food security, thus undermining access to food and increasing the risk of famine.

2417 addresses conflict-induced food insecurity as a peace and security issue. To build and sustain peace, to prevent hunger from being a driver of conflict, to avoid the relapse, outbreak or spread of conflict, donors should increase investment in food security, agriculture, livelihoods, and resilience-building.

3. Minimize the impacts of military/security responses to conflict on livelihoods and access to food

Military and peace-keeping operations can threaten livelihoods, worsen food insecurity, and fuel political instability and violence, especially when political objectives — such as anti-migration or counter-terrorism policies — are mixed with humanitarian and development objectives. This impacts the quality and efficiency of the aid provided and hinders humanitarian access from people in need to lifesaving assistance. States must minimize the impact of their security responses to conflict on livelihoods and access to food.

Furthermore, counter-terrorism restrictions and other policies that criminalize the provision of humanitarian assistance severely curtail our ability to assist people in need. An exemption on these restrictions granted to impartial, independent, and neutral humanitarian actors would facilitate the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected settings.

4. Uphold respect to International Humanitarian Law by creating a Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General and considering prosecution against International Humanitarian Law violations

The use of hunger as a weapon of war is a war crime according to Geneva Conventions. Yet, in some conflict settings, parties to conflict use siege tactics, weaponize starvation of civilians, or wilfully impede life-saving humanitarian supplies to reach those desperately in need. This is unhuman, unacceptable. The UN and member states should hold parties to conflict to account for upholding their legal obligations by imposing targeted sanctions in response to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law — including through the prosecution of these crimes in the national and international legal systems.

The creation of a Special Advisor to the Secretary General on respect of International Humanitarian Law could support compliance with International Humanitarian Law and enhance accountability. Indeed, there is a moral imperative to avert major famines caused by conflict through negotiated political solutions to end conflict or, in the meantime, to enforce respect to International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law.

Millions of people are trapped in a deadly, man-made cycle of conflict and hunger. Action Against Hunger welcomes the unanimous condemnation of starvation as a weapon of war and the renewed call to upholding International Humanitarian Law; and remains committed to collaborate to translate 2417 into actual implementation.

Briefing Paper - Conflict & Hunger: How the UN and Member States Can Help Break the Cycle

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 17 million people in 2019 alone.