A quarter billion people suffered from acute food insecurity last year, the highest number recorded in recent years. Of these people, some 376,000 were facing famine-like conditions in seven countries. Another 35 million people were on the edge. As in all crisis situations, women and children are the most impacted, said UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator Reena Ghelani.
Hunger and conflict feed off of each other. Conflict and insecurity remain key drivers of hunger and famine, she told the Security Council in a briefing.
Every one of the seven countries where people faced famine-like conditions last year was affected by armed conflict or extreme levels of violence. Five of those seven countries — Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen — are regularly on the Security Council’s agenda, she said.
"Armed conflict destroys food systems, shatters livelihoods and drives people from their homes, leaving many extremely vulnerable and hungry. Sometimes these impacts are by-products of war. But all too often they are inflicted deliberately and unlawfully — with hunger utilized as a tactic of war," she said.
Food insecurity itself also fuels instability. Recent research highlighted by the World Food Programme has shown how food insecurity — when coupled with pre-existing grievances, desperation fueled by poverty and inequality, and governance issues — cause people to choose violence over peace, she said.
Conflict-induced hunger is compounded by a toxic mix of climate change and economic shocks, said Ghelani.
Climate change is increasingly becoming a threat multiplier. As the stress on water and other natural resources leads to increased competition and displacement, conflicts and hunger spread. Of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate-related risks, seven are affected by conflict, six host a UN peacekeeping or special political mission, and four have more than a million people one step away from famine. At the same time, insecurity in conflict-affected countries hinders climate adaptation efforts. This leaves already vulnerable communities even poorer, hungrier and less resilient, she said.
The UN official called for more efforts to prevent, reduce and end conflict in all its forms.
"There needs to be a renewed commitment to peace through a reinvigorated multilateral system where governments, the United Nations and regional organizations work hand in hand," she said.
As immediate steps, she called for action in five areas.
One, ensuring parties to conflicts respect international humanitarian law. This includes protecting objects necessary for survival, such as food stocks, water systems, and other objects necessary for food production and distribution systems.
It also includes facilitating unimpeded humanitarian access to all civilians in need and protecting humanitarian staff and assets. States must spare no effort in exerting their influence to ensure parties respect the rules of war.
Two, making better use of existing early-warning mechanisms in a focused and effective manner and following up with concerted action.
Three, being bold and creative in finding ways to mitigate the impact of war on the most vulnerable.
Four, putting women and girls at the center of efforts. Crises and hunger affect them disproportionately, and they also hold the key to lasting solutions.
Five, acknowledging that a halfway, fragmented response to the interconnected risks will not work. There is a need for adequate humanitarian funding, and for efforts to address the climate and economic crises.