UNITED NATIONS, March 12 (IPS) – In 1941, the people of Greece were facing a horrific winter. The Axis powers plundered local supplies and imposed an extortion tax on Greek citizens. The Allied forces imposed a brutal blockade, cutting off imports. Prices have risen dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died.
I have been invited to address you today in my capacity as Executive Director of Oxfam International, and it is an expression of the power of people first unleashed to stand with the people of Greece to claim their most basic rights – the right to food – in the midst of conflict.
I am horrified that we are forced to face the same basic injustice that gave birth to our foundation nearly 80 years ago. Indeed, given that we are witnessing blockades that cut food and fuel to Yemen, millions of people are going hungry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Syria, we should all be terrified.
Three years ago, when this Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2417, we heard unequivocal condemnation of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. We have heard it recognized that peace and security in any armed conflict means having food as much as it means no gunfire.
But promise 2417 is being fulfilled?
Many countries that were at risk of famine from conflict in 2017 remain at risk. And now, other countries have joined.
Overall, at least 88 million people suffer from acute hunger in countries where conflict and insecurity are rife. Women and girls are disproportionately affected, often eating last and eating less.
People in these areas are not starving. They are starving. There is no big difference to the hungry, whether they are starved by deliberate act or ruthless negligence by the parties to the conflict or the international community. An international community in which its most powerful nation often causes famine with ample supplies of weapons.
Aisha Yahya Dahish from Yemen. When her village was bombed, she was forced to flee. Aisha dreamed of becoming a midwife, but with an economy under attack from all sides, it only takes all of her energy to survive. Her two-year-old brother Medan depends on her, but all she can feed is a few crumbs in the water. Maidan is so malnourished that Aisha thinks any exposure to Covid-19 will be fatal.
Tesfay Getachew, a farmer in Ethiopia’s regional state of Tigray, faced blackouts and market and bank closures that destroyed millions, but he felt he could count on the food he grew to feed his family. Last November, his village was bombed and his crops set on fire, leaving nothing for his family.
Hussaina from the Central African Republic. The country has seen a deadly rise in violence in recent months that has led to insecurity on the roads, which means that food does not reach the markets. Food prices are up 240% in some areas. Al-Hasina’s house and fields were destroyed in the fighting.
With Oxfam’s support, it is replanting its crops – only to be destroyed again in the recent fighting. She said, “My pain was immense. I don’t know how to feed my family. We almost exclusively ate the vegetables that I grow.”
Women like Hosseinia want you to fulfill your fundamental promise to keep their families safe. She and her fellow farmers are more than able to produce enough to feed their families, but they cannot do so in the face of violence.
Women in conflict face impossible options – to travel to the market and risk crossing checkpoints, or to watch their families go hungry? To reap their crops and risk attack, or to survive and face starvation?
Sometimes they don’t have a choice. Sahar, three years old, and her sister Hanan, eight, were displaced by the conflict in Yemen and were forced to marry because their parents said they could not feed them.
I am here to amplify their call for the Security Council to implement its unanimous agreement to break the vicious circle of conflict and food insecurity. How?
First, the Council should deepen its work on this topic with a clear commitment to action. They must agree to non-politicized standards that facilitate the regular and mandatory reporting of situations in which there is a risk of famine due to conflict or food insecurity. It should conduct quarterly reviews of procedures on the white documents considered under the EWS.
Second, the Council must take real action to support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. Urgently. Ensure humanitarian access. Ensure that women are involved from the start of the process. It took 4 months for this council to support the initial call for a ceasefire. People on the brink of starvation don’t have time to wait another year to work.
Third, the board should apply the principles it has approved in an abstract form to specific situations on its agenda. It should impartially condemn the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, the targeting of vital food infrastructure, and all restrictions on humanitarian access. It should seize any opportunity to create meaningful accountability for starvation crimes. Today, there is near-global impunity.
Fourth, it must endorse – and its members must lead – efforts to fulfill the $ 5.5 billion global appeal to meet additional needs to avoid famine, particularly in light of Covid-19. For this aid to be most effective, it must flow as directly and urgently as possible to local organizations, especially women-led and women’s rights organizations, which stand at the forefront in tackling hunger.
And fifth, it must endorse the free, publicly available Covid-19 public vaccine. Ending this epidemic will not end hunger, but we will not end hunger if we cannot end this epidemic. Rich countries should unleash global supply restrictions and help get the vaccine to everyone who needs it.
Our failure to tackle hunger before the Covid crisis, the rampant inequality and climate change that often led to conflict, made us scramble to avoid famine around the world.
Let’s also be clear: hunger is a symptom of a deeper problem. The growing famine crisis is occurring in a world where eight of the largest food and beverage companies paid more than $ 18 billion to shareholders last year.
These gains alone are more than 3 times what we require to help today to avert disaster. There is no shortage of food, there is a lack of equality.
There is a disturbing consistency in what people suffering from hunger and conflict around the world tell us they want. They want peace. But what does peace mean to them?
Peace is not just the absence of war but the ability to live in dignity and prosperity. It means a job. Coming home. Food prices are stable and reasonable. If the Security Council aims to promote peace in their name, it should not be less broad in its perspective and actions.
* Speech to the open debate of the Security Council hosted by the United States of America on conflict and hunger, on March 11th.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service