The emergency relief coordinator was Mark Lowcock Ambassadors briefing Regarding the Secretary-General’s recommendations to keep more civilians safe from harm, noting that despite the United Nations Secretary-General’s call to Global ceasefire During the Covid-19 Pandemic, deadly fighting continued, and worsened in some areas.
In the past year, conflicts have contributed to a rise in the number of forcibly displaced persons, to 80 million by mid-2020. The number of people able to return to their homes has also decreased, while insecurity, sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and red tape “impeded humanitarian operations.”
The pandemic has made matters more difficult with the suspension of flights, border closures, quarantine measures and closures. Mr. Lowcock highlighted five major areas that need further improvement.
Conflict and hunger
In northeast Nigeria, parts of the Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen, the interaction between conflict and hunger has seen the threat of famine re-emerging, resulting in an annual increase of 77 million people facing “crisis or worst levels of acute food insecurity as a result of the conflict”, Mr. Lowcock said.
In Nigeria, 110 farmers were killed in a single attack on a rice farm. In Ethiopia, crops have been destroyed and looted, while relief is blocked following the political crisis in Tigray. The relief chief said he wrote to the ambassadors earlier in the day about what to do there.
He called for “more effective measures” by governments to address the problem in general, noting that conflicts disrupt food systems and markets, while food is destroyed and prices are rising – a vicious cycle of hunger.
Second, he noted that 90 percent of the people killed with explosive weapons live in cities and towns, compared to only 20 percent when they are deployed in the countryside.
“These weapons are inflicting heavy losses on the basic civilian infrastructure,” the relief official said. “The fighting parties must change their choice of weapons and tactics.
He also highlighted the impact of the conflict on the environment, citing air strikes in Iraq that have devastated fields through forest fires, threatening biodiversity and endangered species. Oil spills in Syria have polluted farm water, endangering health and hygiene.
He said, “Many conflicts are partly rooted in environmental issues, especially those related to water,” and he expected the council’s work to witness many consequences for that in the coming years.
Medics are under fire
“When medical care stops, lives are lost,” said Mr. Lowcock, who candidly assesses the impact of attacks on health-care workers and health-care facilities that caused more deaths, as well as the conflict.
Attacks on health care in 22 conflict-affected countries killed 182 health workers last year, and in Myanmar alone, after the military coup, 109 incidents of violence against employees were documented in a two-month period. Badly needed. “
“The consequences for health care are catastrophic, as millions of people are deprived of life-saving care, and severely curtailing diseases such as cholera, measles and COVID,” he added.
Some countries have taken practical steps to protect the medical staff, the most important of which is ensuring that the military rules of engagement respect international humanitarian law.
Finally, Mr. Lowcock warned the ambassadors that during his four years on the job, he had witnessed a “significant deterioration” in compliance with humanitarian law on the part of the belligerents.
“It is possible to make progress,” he said, calling on states to improve training, update policies to avoid harming civilians, adopt better victim tracking, investigate accidents, and hold accountable those guilty of violations.
He added that the behavior of non-state armed groups in compliance with international law could also improve, “despite the importance of realizing the real challenges in this area, especially with regard to those groups that refute international humanitarian law and the role of humanitarian agencies, as part of their twisted ideologies.”
“We all – Member States and humanitarian agencies in particular – need a more effective approach to address this. Many of the current efforts are counterproductive and exacerbate the harm to civilians.
“What is not punished is encouraged”
He concluded by saying that accountability is critical, telling the council that “if war crimes are not punished, things will get worse. Accountability for violations should be systematic and universal. What is not punished is encouraged.
“This requires political will … to investigate and prosecute allegations of serious violations whenever they occur. We have the necessary laws and tools to protect civilians from harm in armed conflict. It is time for all states and parties to conflicts to implement them.”