Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your briefing. We appreciate your leadership and your voice in raising the alarm about the nations on the verge of famine today.
The humanitarian needs in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are unprecedented. These countries are experiencing what’s being called the most vicious of vicious spirals, where conflict compounds food and health care shortages which, in turn, compound the risk of disease. All four countries are experiencing devastating cholera outbreaks.
The plagues seem to come one right after the other. But they’re not the wrath of God; they are the acts of men. In too many cases, they are the acts of leaders more interested in power or personal gain than the safety and security of their very own people.
In August, this Council acknowledged this unfortunate reality when we declared that famine is an issue of international peace and security. These conflicts threaten us all. People without access to food, water, basic services, and economic opportunities are more likely to turn towards armed and extremist groups. And epidemics like cholera can spread across borders.
It’s not drought or some other natural disaster that has caused the largest food security emergency since World War II. The main reason we face a risk of famine in Yemen, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, and Somalia is that fighters are not letting food get to those who need it. In some cases, there are reports that warring parties are trying to starve entire communities into submission. It’s horrifying. And it demands this Council’s full and immediate attention.
Many have responded to the urgent need for assistance in these four countries. At the opening of the General Assembly, the United States announced more than $575 million in additional aid, bringing our total contribution to populations affected by this crisis to over $2.4 billion in 2017. We urge all UN Member States to join us and do their part. But more funding, however necessary, will not be enough.
In most cases, access to desperate people is the key problem. Food aid may be available, but the assistance cannot be delivered to those in need. This is especially true in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen.
In South Sudan, a massive humanitarian response helped to roll back famine earlier this summer. But the pervasive conflict in South Sudan has left half the population facing life-threatening hunger. Armed groups and bureaucratic impediments frequently prevent or delay the delivery of humanitarian assistance. And attacks on aid workers are increasing at an alarming rate. Since 2013, 85 humanitarian workers have been killed in South Sudan alone. Eighteen were killed this year.
In Yemen, the people are simultaneously facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak and the world’s largest food security emergency. Like elsewhere, women and children are suffering the most. There is no military solution in Yemen. A lasting end to the violence will only come through a comprehensive political agreement. But the humanitarian needs in Yemen will not wait on a political process. All sides must do everything in their power to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Yemen. There are practical steps that can be taken now – today – to facilitate the delivery of food, fuel, and medicine to desperate people. These steps begin with increasing capacity for aid delivery and allowing humanitarian access in all of Yemen.
In Nigeria, as well, attacks by Boko Haram and ISIL continue to prevent aid from being delivered. The United States is fully committed to working with our Nigerian partners to defeat terrorists. But the needs of the 5.2 million suffering Nigerians must be addressed. The Nigerian government must do more to streamline assistance deliveries and allow humanitarian workers to reach all civilians in need.
And in Somalia, unprecedented donor contributions and the effective leadership of the Federal Government of Somalia have helped avert famine thus far. But the threat persists. And here, too, terrorists and other armed groups impede the humanitarian response.
In each of those four countries, avoiding famine means making sure aid can be delivered to the hungry. There is no excuse for a delay. All members of the Council and the international community must come together to hold all actors on the ground accountable.
When they block aid, we have to call them out. When they don’t allow the safe passage of humanitarian workers, we have to insist that aid workers can operate without fear for their safety and they can access all populations in need.
The job of this Council is the promotion and maintenance of peace, security, and human rights. Famine prevention is an important part of our mandate. Famine is both the result of the break down in peace, security, and human rights, and the contributor to further violence and insecurity. We request this Council’s sustained attention to this good and necessary work.
We ask that we not stop at words and donations alone. Let’s go one step further to hold those preventing access accountable for their crimes.