Secretary Antony J. Blinken Intervention at a United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Famine and Conflict-Induced Global Food Insecurity
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
AUGUST 3, 2023
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I thank Ms. Salem for her briefing. Indeed, I thank all three of our briefers for their compelling and important contributions to our discussion this morning. Thank you.
I would like to draw the attention of speakers to Paragraph 22 of Note 507, which encourages all participants in council meetings to deliver their statements in five minutes or less in line with the Security Council’s commitment to making more effective use of open meetings. I shall now make a statement in my capacity as the Secretary of State of the United States of America.
Again, to our briefers, thank you. And thank you for keeping our focus on what’s really at stake here, and that is the human element of our discussions. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers and statistics, in big concepts, but ultimately it comes down to people. It comes down to children. So I thank you for that focus, as well as on practical solutions to the problem before us. So to all three of our briefers, again, you have powerfully illustrated the challenge before us; but even more important, you’ve given us very good ideas for actually how to address that challenge.
Last September, President Biden told the General Assembly, and I quote, “In every country in the world…if parents cannot feed their children, nothing else matters.” In some ways, it’s as simple and as stark as that. Too many families are experiencing the overwhelming urgency, the consequence of an unprecedented global food crisis that, as we’ve heard, has been fueled by climate, by COVID as well, and, as we’re discussing today, by conflict.
Hunger and conflict are inexorably linked. Scarce resources heighten tensions between communities and nations. Warring parties weaponize food to subjugate local populations. Indeed, conflict is the largest driver of food insecurity, with violence and unrest pushing 117 million people into extreme deprivation last year.
In Sudan, the fighting has disrupted the summer planting season and driven up the cost of food.
In Myanmar, where one in five people – one in five people – is severely undernourished, the military regime is making the problem worse to tighten its grip, including blocking aid convoys. Deteriorating conditions prevent the safe return of nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled their homeland and who now live in Bangladesh on rations that are down to about 27 cents per day.
In Yemen, some families have reported and resorted to boiling leaves to stay alive. They call it famine food.
Unless the world acts, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Somalia could all experience famine next year.
And again, I ask each of us, pause for that on – for a moment. Think about what that actually means. Imagine just for a minute if this was your child, your son, your daughter. You heard the compelling description of what that actually is all about. And I hope, if nothing else, having that image in our minds, tying it to our own lives and experiences, will be some added motivation for us to act.
Since January 2021, the United States has provided more than $17.5 billion to address famine and food insecurity. In 2021, in 2022, we convened this council to focus on the intersection between hunger and conflict. We chaired last year’s food security ministerial, where we joined over three dozen countries in issuing a global roadmap, committing to get food to those in need, and to build greater resilience for the future. To date, more than 100 countries have signed that pledge and begun to take concrete steps to actually implement it.
But as this crisis ramps up, so must our efforts. This council is charged with maintaining international peace and security, and we simply cannot preserve peace and security without strengthening food security. Each of us has a responsibility to act.
This morning, for the first time in three years, this council has unanimously put conflict, hunger, and famine, as well as climate change, at the center of its agenda. This is a noteworthy and welcome step. Now, let’s harness the momentum to further combat food insecurity and famine around the world to turn what we’re talking about into concrete actions.
Five years ago, as you heard, this council adopted Resolution 2417, emphasizing that the intentional starvation of civilians may constitute a war crime. Today, we can build on these efforts. Nearly 90 countries, including the United States, have already signed a new joint communique that we drafted and circulated, committing to end the use of famine, starvation, and food as weapons of war. Hunger must not be weaponized. I urge all member states to join this communique.
We also must significantly increase aid to tackle extreme hunger and to avert famine. Last year, governments and private donors made record contributions, providing direct relief, equipping farmers with fertilizer, using satellite imagery to maximize yields. Donations for the World Food Program jumped 48 percent. The United States alone provided more than $7.2 billion, funding roughly half – half – of the World Food Program’s budget. These and other efforts helped the world to narrowly avoid famine last year. But this year, as we’ve heard, the World Food Program estimates that it has to spend $25 billion to deliver relief to 171 million people.
To date, countries have funded only $4.5 billion; in other words, 18 percent of what’s required. The cost of that shortfall will be measured in growth stunted and in lives lost.
While we welcome smaller countries punching above their weight, the world’s largest economies should be the world’s largest donors. For member states that consider themselves global leaders, this is your chance to prove it. All of us – all of us – can dig deeper.
But, of course, we know while it is necessary, it is not sufficient to meet immediate needs. We must also increase agricultural productivity. We’ve got to invest in adaptation. We have to build greater resilience to future shocks, especially in regions that are affected by conflict.
Around the world, farmers confront soaring temperatures, eroding soil, disappearing ground water. That reduces yields. It makes crops less nutritious. By 2050, climate change could cut output by as much as 30 percent even as global food demand increases by over 50 percent. So we have a planet that’s heading in the current – in the coming decades to a population of as much as 10 billion people with demand going up in accordance, and yet supply is actually declining, not increasing.
So as challenging, as urgent as the situation is now, we can also see what’s coming if we don’t take the necessary steps to address it. Mitigating climate impacts is central to the United States Feed the Future Initiative, a public-private partnership to strengthen food systems, to expand social safety nets, to enhance nutrition in 40 countries around the world.
We’ve devoted over a billion dollars every year to this effort. Last year, we expanded the program to eight more target countries in Africa. To build on this work, we’ve now launched what we call the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils in February alongside the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The shorthand, VACS – through this program, we’re identifying the most nutritious indigenous African crops, assessing how climate change will likely affect them, and investing in breeding the most climate resilient and most resilient varieties, as well as improving the soil that they’ll grow in.
This focus on the quality of the seeds and the quality of the soil can have a powerful impact on sustainable agricultural productivity throughout Africa. Today, I’m also announcing $362 million more to tackle the drivers of food insecurity and to enhance resilience in Haiti and 11 African countries, like getting nutritious food to pregnant women, and helping farmers grow heartier and more diverse crops.
The United States will continue to do our part, but this is by definition a global challenge. It demands global resources. And we’ll be looking to governments, to companies, to philanthropies, to help us continue to improve nutrition and invest in sustainable and resilient food systems.
Finally, we must address Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the resulting assault on the global food system. This past year, the Black Sea Grain Initiative negotiated by the United Nations and Türkiye delivered over two – excuse me – 32 million tons of Ukrainian foodstuffs to the world. Wheat exports alone were the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread – 18 billion loaves of bread. Keep in mind, this initiative never should have been necessary in the first place. It only was necessary because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukrainian ports. But the initiative produced concrete, demonstrable, powerful results in making sure that these food products could continue to get to world markets, going to those who needed it.
And let’s be very clear about who benefitted from this initiative. Over half the food products exported through this effort and two-thirds of the wheat went to developing countries. These shipments helped to lower global food prices for everyone by roughly a quarter since Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Since Russia pulled out of the arrangement of July 17th, ignoring the world’s appeals, grain prices have risen by more than 8 percent around the world. Kenya’s foreign ministry called Russia’s move, and I quote, “A stab in the back.”
The Kremlin claims that it tore up the deal because international sanctions were restricting its agricultural exports. In reality, sanctions explicitly exclude food and fertilizer. In fact, at the time it abandoned the initiative, Russia was exporting more grain at higher prices than ever before.
And what has Russia’s response been to the world’s distress and outrage? Bombing Ukrainian granaries, mining port entrances, threatening to attack any vessel in the Black Sea – no matter its flag, no matter its cargo.
These actions are consistent with Russia’s decision last month to block the reauthorization of critical cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria – a country where, after February’s devastating earthquake, 12 million people don’t have enough to eat.
The United States is prepared to renew efforts to mandate this vital lifeline if the United Nations and Syria cannot find a way forward. We also very much appreciate Türkiye and others working to reinstate the grain deal. Every member of this council, every member of the United Nations, should tell Moscow: Enough; enough using the Black Sea as blackmail; enough treating the world’s most vulnerable people as leverage; enough of this unjustified, unconscionable war.
Strengthening food security is essential to realizing the vision of the United Nations Charter. To save generations from the scourge of war and reaffirm the dignity and worth of every single human being.
That hope is embodied in one of the statues outside the building of a figure fulfilling the biblical directive to beat swords into ploughshares. These words of scripture are not yet in reach, but – but – we can at least commit not to use our swords to destroy other’s ploughs. We can deliver lifesaving aid to those in urgent need. We can ensure that people around the globe are fed now and for years to come. If we do that, if we build a healthier, more stable, more peaceful world for all, we will have at least begun to live up to the responsibility entrusted to us, entrusted to this council, entrusted to this institution.