Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Conflict and Hunger

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
March 23, 2018


Thank you, Minister Kaag, for joining us today and convening this important meeting. And thank you also to Under-Secretary-General Lowcock and Executive Director Beasley for their always cogent and pointed presentations. We appreciate your ongoing contributions to the work of the Council.

The connection between hunger and armed conflict is undeniable. Today, the majority of the world’s hungry people live in conflict-affected states, and that number is growing. That means people are starving not because of a drought or a natural disaster, but because conflicts are preventing food from getting to those who desperately need it. This is a man-made food security crisis.

Hunger in warzones quickly turns into a vicious cycle. Relentless violence that defines far too many conflicts today drives countless civilians from their homes, fields, and livelihoods. Fighters prevent food from getting to those in need or destroy the markets and the infrastructure needed to distribute food. This wave of hunger forces more to flee their homes, often crossing borders in search of ways to feed their loved ones. Or they take up arms to fight back against the forces that are starving them. Fighting gets worse, and then still more people go hungry. So conflict causes hunger, and hunger leads to more conflict.

This cycle is devastating. But because hunger and conflict is a manmade crisis, we have the power to solve it. We on the Security Council, together with all responsible members of this United Nations, can act to keep civilians from starving.

At an absolute minimum, we must demand an end to medieval and barbaric siege tactics, arbitrary denials of humanitarian access, and attacks that violate international humanitarian and human rights law. The connection between these violations and threats to international peace and security is also undeniable and an equally appropriate topic for this Council.

In South Sudan, the situation became so extreme last year that famine was declared in certain parts of the country. The Government of South Sudan and other armed groups blocked the World Food Program and other humanitarian agencies from reaching civilians with life-saving aid. For years, fighters from all sides have slaughtered and plundered livestock, and they have assaulted and murdered women and children who leave IDP camps to search for food. Civilians who fear for their lives have chosen to stay hidden in marshes eating nothing but plants to avoid being killed by armed groups. Though we narrowly managed to avert famine last year in South Sudan, the forecast for the year ahead has only worsened. The threat of famine will remain as long as the parties continue paying no regard to the basic welfare or basic human rights of the South Sudanese people.

In Syria, the Assad regime and its backers have relentlessly used sieges and starvation to pummel the civilian population in opposition areas. For years, the regime has denied even the most basic deliveries of food aid to hundreds of thousands of civilians in besieged areas, including right now in blatant defiance of UNSCR 2401. This Council has spoken at length about the Assad regime’s actions in Syria, and we will not repeat all the details here. But as we saw in eastern Ghouta, despite this Council’s demand for a ceasefire, the regime decided to cut off deliveries of food and medicine and unleash an all-out assault on the nearly 400,000 people living there. Denying the people of eastern Ghouta food was a key part of the Assad regime’s strategy. This is a barbaric tactic that any responsible member of this Council must stand up and condemn, and we will not stop working to hold Assad and his backers accountable for trying to starve the Syrian people into submission.

Yemen has become the world’s largest food security emergency by number of people in need. Here again, the link between conflict and hunger is obvious. Fighting has decimated Yemen’s economy, which means Yemen cannot import enough food for the country’s people. Yemen is 90 percent dependent on imports for food, so the disruption caused by war quickly led to a devastating hunger crisis. There is no question that all parties must allow for unhindered humanitarian access to help alleviate these needs. But for Yemen, humanitarian aid is not enough. Agencies like WFP cannot tackle hunger in Yemen on their own. We also need to protect the support and flow of life-saving commercial imports of food. If we improve humanitarian access and facilitate imports, we can start to address Yemen’s dire needs. That is why the United States supported the delivery of mobile cranes to Hudaydah port and why we continue to promote the work of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism. The United States welcomes Saudi Arabia’s recent commitments to expand the delivery of humanitarian and commercial goods, and we look forward to the plan’s further development with humanitarian partners and encourage a rapid expansion of access.

Hunger and conflict are also linked in the Lake Chad Basin. The terror of Boko Haram, and its offshoot ISIS-West Africa, has devastated communities throughout the region. Their continued terror prolongs the humanitarian crisis and displacement of millions, who face food insecurity and the very real threat of famine. The United States continues to work closely with Nigeria and its neighbors to defeat Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa once and for all. But we need to make sure that the fight does not exacerbate food insecurity for civilians. That is why we urge Nigeria and the other governments of the Lake Chad Basin to step up their cooperation with humanitarian agencies. A successful response to the crisis depends on access to the communities in need throughout the entire region, and we reiterate calls on regional governments to do all they can to help secure and maintain that access. They can also do more to bolster grassroots support for the international humanitarian response by reinstating legitimate government across the region and reassuring the region’s people that they have a just and secure future in their home communities. To echo our Ethiopian friends, this means this Council broadly needs to take a more serious approach to conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy, rather than waiting to act until a situation reaches full-blown emergency.

When conflict is the common denominator for so many places that are food insecure, this issue must be on the agenda of this Council. The specifics of each conflict may be different, but we must acknowledge how often the denial or violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are at the root of these conflicts. If this Security Council is to live up to its mandate, we must be consistent, principled, and strong in demanding that conflict should be no excuse for perpetuating hunger, and the prevention of such conflict should be our highest goal.

Thank you.