UN chief stresses importance of resolving conflict to prevent famine in Africa

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday stressed the importance of conflict resolution to address the root cause of famine in some African countries.

Despite more aid from the international community, the numbers of people at risk of famine have grown in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria, Guterres told the Security Council.

In South Sudan, some 6 million people are severely food insecure, up from 5 million at the beginning of the year, he said.

The government and opposition groups are preventing agencies from accessing areas of urgent need and 19 aid workers have been killed since January, and more than 440 others have had to be relocated. Humanitarian supplies are regularly looted, said Guterres.

More than 830 incidents related to access have been reported this year in the war-torn country, more than half involving violence against humanitarian agencies. Both government and opposition forces are implicated, he said. The collapse of the economy has led to widespread violence and increased criminality, making the delivery of food aid even more dangerous, he added.

In northeast Nigeria, some 8.5 million people now need humanitarian aid. There have been tangible improvements in food security in some areas thanks to the efforts of the government and humanitarian organizations. But aid agencies face obstacles because of ongoing attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Operations by the Nigerian military also have impacts on access, he said.

In Somalia, more than 6 million people depend on humanitarian aid for their survival. Aid agencies and their partners face conflict, insecurity, blocked roads and unnecessary bureaucracy. Four aid workers were killed in the first eight months of this year. There were more than 100 violent incidents affecting aid organizations, said the secretary-general.

Large parts of southern and central Somalia are still under the control or influence of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Almost 1.9 million people who need help are beyond the reach of aid agencies. Road access is severely limited by illegal checkpoints and blockades. Al-Shabaab and other non-state armed groups target humanitarians, and confiscate or destroy aid supplies. Meanwhile, the government frequently imposes bureaucratic obstacles, he said.

In Yemen, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners helped to avert famine by reaching 7 million people in August. But many millions of people are still suffering. Some 700,000 people in areas of Saada, Hajjah, Hudaydah, and Taizz governorates are hard to reach because of bureaucratic obstacles, airstrikes, shelling and ground clashes, he said.

Both the Sanaa-based authority backed by Houthi forces and the Aden-based Yemeni government led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi have imposed restrictions on the movement and transportation of humanitarian personnel and aid, said Guterres. Meanwhile the world's largest cholera epidemic stands at some 800,000 suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths.

"Humanitarian aid is saving lives. But we have not dealt with the one major root cause of these food crises: conflict," he said.

Some 8 percent of the WFP's funding is going to areas affected by conflict. Around 60 percent of the 815 million people suffering from hunger today live in the shadow of conflict. Three-quarters of the stunted children in the world are in countries affected by conflict, he noted.

"Until these conflicts are resolved, and development takes root, communities and entire regions will continue to be ravaged by hunger and suffering."

Conflict and violations of international humanitarian law inevitably increase vulnerability to all kinds of menaces including food insecurity, which in turn causes people to flee. Conflict in one country creates demands on its neighbors to provide food and basic services to refugees. This can lead to further instability, affecting the security of an entire region and beyond, he said.

Guterres called on the parties to conflict in all four countries to honor their commitment to peace. He asked them to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, only impose constraints in good faith, and respect and protect humanitarian personnel and supplies.

"The parties to conflict in all four of these countries have stated their commitment to humanitarian and human rights law, but most of them have not followed through. I call on them, and those with influence over them, to translate that commitment into practical measures and to address impunity immediately."

He asked the Security Council to continue to engage in and support the political process in Somalia. "We see with concern that this process is not going as smoothly as we would like. Without progress on politics and security, improvements in the humanitarian situation will be temporary."

For Nigeria, he encouraged the government and its counterparts in the Lake Chad Basin to develop a regional strategy to address the root causes of the crisis.

He called for peace talks in Yemen between the rival factions. "What is needed most is for the parties to return to the negotiating table and focus on agreement."

He urged parties to the conflict in South Sudan to come to terms urgently, to prevent increased food insecurity, refugee movements that threaten to destabilize the region, and continued human suffering and misery. "I urge the government to facilitate access to people in need, to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and supplies, and to remove bureaucratic impediments to aid."

Guterres also stressed the importance of famine prevention.

Early famine warning mechanisms have worked well in the four countries, he said. "Humanitarian aid and strengthened respect for international law must be complemented by investment in sustainable peace and comprehensive long-term solutions."

These countries are dealing with violent extremism at the same time as they are hit by economic recession and low oil prices. They are powerful examples of the complex and multi-dimensional challenges. They require a system-wide approach that addresses the humanitarian-development nexus and its link to peace, said Guterres.

"In the long term, we must focus on what communities and countries need to emerge from protracted conflict and instability. We must help people not just to survive, but to thrive."

But right now, the international community must urgently commit to increasing humanitarian aid and funding the programs already in place. "Where we have not prevented or resolved conflict, we must support its victims and survivors. It is unconscionable that aid agencies must make life-or-death decisions about who gets aid, because of a shortage of resources."

[ Editor: meng ]


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