UN Secretary-General: Hunger And Famine Drive Conflict

On 11 March 2021, The United Nation (UN) Security Council convened to debate the relationship between food security and conflicts. UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented that “If you don’t feed people, you feed conflict. Conflict drives hunger and famine, and hunger and famine drive conflict.” In his remark, he warned that there are more than 88 million people under acute starvation, which increased by 20 per cent since last year. He condemned the use of starvation as a war crime, which has been happening in Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar. He also specifically pointed out the regions under severe hunger crises, including the Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan.

This meeting is a result of a high-level pledging conference for Yemen on March 1. In the conference, the UN, alongside governments of Sweden and Switzerland, pledged states to support famine aids to Yemen, but the result was disappointing. The pledge only gained $1.69 billion from 17 countries, $1 billion less than that was pledged in 2019. Guterres urged this “cannot become a pattern” and “ask all countries to reconsider their responsibilities.”

Indeed, the devastating impacts of COVID-19, with the raising of xenophobia and isolationism, have made the international community much less concerned about global food security. However, there is a positive trend. The new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, presented the Biden administration’s determination to be more active in such crises. She has been involved in humanitarian crisis since she joined the UN. During the Security Council debate, she suggested establishing a regular mechanism to handle global starvation and insisted the UN should “work to analyze and identify who is responsible for hunger.”

Member states and organizations have, at least, partially expressed their supports for the U.S.’s initiative. According to OCHA, China called for depoliticizing food issues and enhancing international collaboration on conflict solutions and macroeconomic policies. The French representative stated that France increased its food assistance by 44 per cent last year and sought to mobilize NGO’s, private sectors and financial institutions. Russia agreed to strengthen global collaboration and emphasized the Security Council “must not interfere in the well-oiled and effective work being done by the General Assembly and specialized agencies.” Meanwhile, the U.K. was worried about the Security Council’s response, criticizing it “failed to encourage any independent State investigations into the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.” The E.U. stressed the safety of aids access, sustainable funding and early monitoring. Although these countries have different focuses, they all agreed on the correlation between food and conflicts and rhetorically promised to solve the problem.

This debate is a vital sign of bringing hunger and other humanitarian assistance back to the Security Council’s agenda. This action is favourable to its members’ cooperation. The Security Council is deeply divided on various conflicts, including Syria and Iran, but dealing with famines and hunger has no political affiliation and meets all major members’ interest. Therefore, this is a good start to let the Security Council work collectively to solve some of the world conflicts. Also, it shows the U.S., one of the most uncertain factors in the last few years, is back on the track of globalization. All these are signalling a brighter future.

Jiannan Luo