- Check against delivery -
I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia*and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
I welcome this open debate on the impact of conflict on food security, which is of utmost relevance in this moment.
The WFP is projecting a stark rise of food insecurity for 2021 as result of the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, climate change, water scarcity, and indeed, conflicts.
The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises shows that conflict was to blame for six out of the ten worst food crises in the world, and for nearly 60 percent of humanitarian needs. This means that, without conflict, the number of people affected by food crises could be less than half, and the humanitarian funding gap dramatically reduced. The link between conflict and hunger was also the reason for the initiative by two EU Member States, Netherlands and Sweden, which led to the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2417 (2018). This landmark resolution for the first time addressed the link between conflict and hunger, recognised the need to break the vicious cycle of conflict and food insecurity, emphasised the obligation of Member States to help ensure that food assistance reaches those in need and condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare.
To combat hunger and malnutrition we thus need to focus on conflict-ridden regions and step up efforts to address both the root causes of conflict and mitigate their effects on populations, including food insecurity. All this without losing the longer-term goal to develop more sustainable, resilient, equitable and inclusive food systems, with empowered women, girls, youth and families, and considerate of the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations, ensuring no one is left behind
Given the magnitude and complexity of the challenge, as well as the limited resources, international coordination is essential. The EU and its Member States are already active in multiple processes and initiatives in this area, and are strong supporters of collective responses in close cooperation with the WFP, the FAO, the CFS and others.
For the purpose of this debate, we would like to address three main points: (i) ensuring safe access to humanitarian assistance; (ii) sustainable funding and innovative long-term solutions based on early warning, and; (iii) highlight specific situations where food insecurity needs to be addressed urgently to avoid a worsening of tensions and conflicts.
First, unimpeded, sustained, rapid, and safe access to affected populations is a critical enabler to ensure efficient and effective delivery of assistance to address food insecurity. This is especially important in conflict areas.
The EU is concerned by continued gross disrespect for International Humanitarian Law and the humanitarian principles, the shrinking of the humanitarian space and continued attacks on humanitarian and medical workers. Actions, including by governments, that directly or indirectly deny or restrict humanitarian access, remain a major obstacle to an effective response.
The EU calls on all parties to armed conflicts, state and non-state alike, to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, including the prohibition of the use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare, and to allow and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian relief. We recall, in this respect, that in 2019, the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court voted unanimously to extend the war crime of starvation to non-international armed conflict.
The international community needs to take a more outspoken stance in calling on all parties to conflicts to respect IHL, condemning access restrictions, and finding political and practical solutions to remove access constraints. The UN Security Council plays a critical role in steering this forward and ensuring accountability.
This also means addressing continued attacks on humanitarian and medical workers. The EU, together with France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Niger, and Switzerland will organise a discussion series in the coming months on the protection of humanitarian and medical workers in armed conflict with the aim to find solutions and to contribute to the development of key elements of the “Call for Action to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law and principled humanitarian action”. On the 5th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 2286, we also recognise the efforts of co-penholders Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Uruguay and Spain in this regard.
Second, to ensure timely and adequate responses to food insecurity, the funding gap needs to be addressed.
The international community should explore all possibilities to increase funding, especially for the most acute crises, and strive to make it more sustainable and predictable. This helps to ensure that resources are used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Efficiency also requires a switch to prevention when possible, well-coordinated interventions, and joint approaches, based on high-quality analysis.
As crises are volatile, we need to monitor the situation continuously, in close cooperation with local civil society actors, to understand how needs evolve, and thus be able to intervene where it is most needed, at the right moment, and in the most appropriate manner.
Moreover, as conflict and hunger are unlikely to disappear any time soon, we have to intensify efforts to work across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus in fragile contexts. We must develop tools and mechanisms that will help us provide more efficient interventions to strengthen food security and build resilience. This may include monitoring tools that provide information on inaccessible areas, making use of technologies such as satellite imaging, and developing anticipatory action mechanisms. To do this, we need to build on structures such as the Global Network against Food Crises to generate evidence-based information and analyses and leverage strategic investments to prepare, prevent and respond to food crises.
Third, and finally, Mr. President, let me briefly put the spotlight on some crises that, in our view, require close monitoring and immediate action as per UN Security Council resolution 2417 (2018). This was most recently done in September last year with regard to Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan.
Furthermore, WFP and FAO, under the auspices of the Global Network against Food Crises, issued an “Early warning analysis of acute food insecurity hotspots” last October. This document identifies four countries that are at risk of famine: Burkina Faso, North-East Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan.
The situation is not improving in these countries. On the contrary, lack of humanitarian access, aggravation of the political situation and additional climatic stresses may lead to a further deterioration of food security. These should be priorities for the international community.
Other food crises, where the situation is deteriorating quickly, also urgently need our attention.
Central African Republic (CAR)
In the CAR, acute food insecurity is projected to affect an additional 400.000 people in 2021. The escalation in violence following the recent elections has reduced access for humanitarian actors, exacerbating food insecurity, and caused more than 200.000 new displacements. Coordination among humanitarian actors, especially on advocacy with all parties to the conflict, is paramount.
The EU is extremely concerned about the risk of famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. According to reports 80 percent of the population, as well as 100.000 Eritrean refugees, have been cut off from humanitarian assistance for more than 100 days now. Over 4.5 million people face pre-famine conditions and the situation is deteriorating quickly. Humanitarian agencies have been denied access to people in need and there are reports about starvation being used as a weapon of war.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The DRC now has the highest number of acutely food insecure people ever recorded in a single country: 20 million people. Rampant conflict and insecurity, aggravated by COVID-19 and its broader consequences, are the main drivers, while natural disasters and recurrent epidemics take another toll on the population. Dramatically, the DRC is also one of the most underfunded crises in the world.
After 40 years of war, Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places for civilians. It is the world’s third largest food crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation. The latest analysis estimate that 17 million Afghans -more than 45% of the population - are acutely food insecure and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan remains strongly underfunded, with less than half of the needs covered.
To conclude, while the specific crises I just mentioned require our attention, it does not mean that we have to concentrate the available resources on a limited number of locations. With many crises severely underfunded, millions of people in very fragile situations, and without an increase of humanitarian funding, combating hunger in a few places only may imply creating new famines elsewhere.
Instead, we need to redouble our efforts to address the root causes and put an end to conflicts, prevent new conflicts from erupting and uphold IHL. We also need to explore all possibilities to increase humanitarian funding, improve international coordination and efficiency, and continue to monitor the worst crises, with the key support of the Global Network against Food Crises, launched by the EU, FAO and WFP during the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
The UN Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit in 2021 will be a major opportunity, and a testimony of inclusive multilateralism, and we are fully committed to achieving an ambitious outcome from that Summit.
The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates just how crucial multilateral action and institutions are to our collective health, prosperity and security. We count on the Security Council to play its part.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.