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Statement by Minister Coveney at UNSC Open Debate on Conflict and Food Security

Thank you Madam President and I would like to extend my best wishes to you in your new role and also on a power contribution today. Ireland deeply appreciates your leadership in dedicating the signature event of your Presidency to the Council’s responsibility to address the role that conflict is playing as the most significant factor in driving global hunger today.


I’d also like to thank Secretary General, Guterres for his remarks and also David Beasley and Gabriela Bucher for their contributions and of course for their organisations important work.


Madam President,


My country, Ireland, has a historical memory of famine. The Irish famine was the worst humanitarian disaster of nineteenth century Europe. A million people perished and another million were forced to emigrate.


This historical experience has left a legacy in Ireland.


That legacy is our belief that we have a shared global responsibility to act. To protect populations.


Famine is unconscionable. The use of hunger as a weapon of war is unconscionable. We have a collective responsibility – and this Council has a particular responsibility – to see famine become a thing of the past.


Madam President, I will make three main points today.


First, it is undeniable that conflict is now the main driver of hunger. Too often, we have seen starvation used as a weapon of war.


Every time the Council is briefed on Yemen and Syria we are reminded that too many are facing death by hunger. This, in the 21st century, should be a cause of great shame. Just a few months ago, the UN released emergency funding to help stave off famine in seven high-risk countries in which conflict is widespread.


We cannot claim to be surprised. Conflict-induced hunger is a phenomenon that we, around this Council table, are briefed on time and time and time again. By the end of last year, an estimated 88 million people - the majority women and girls - were suffering acute hunger in countries where conflict and insecurity played the key role in driving that food insecurity.


In Yemen, 24 million people are in receipt of humanitarian assistance.


That’s 24 million individual human beings. The kind of children that we have head about in the stories so far today.


What conflict in Yemen means is that the Yemeni people now face the real possibility of facing into the worst famine that the world has seen in many decades.


In Ethiopia, even before the conflict in Tigray, we anticipated that 1.4 million people in that region would need food assistance in 2021.


As we speak – and notwithstanding commitments made by the Ethiopian government - humanitarian access remains inadequate compared to the urgent, large-scale needs that are there. Comprehensive assessment missions are not yet being permitted. An effective civil-military coordination system has yet to be properly facilitated to allow for the safe movement of humanitarian actors. Some of them on this call.


In Syria, ten years into the conflict, 60 per cent of the population – and 80 per cent of those in the North West of the country - face food insecurity. This, in a country that ranked in the top half of the Human Development Index some twelve or thirteen years ago.


I visited the Bab Al-Hawa crossing last month, where emergency humanitarian aid is channeled to 2.7 million people in the Idlib area. Speaking to Syrian and international NGOs and UN agencies working in North West Syria brought home to me again the sheer human misery – and the utter waste of human potential – that results from conflict.


Madam President


The unanimous adoption of Resolution 2417 was an impressive moment in this Council’s recent history. It was a testament to the Council’s unity on the need to counter conflict driven hunger.


The resolution is a call to action. It restates core humanitarian principles. It demands the effective application of international humanitarian law - and accountability for those who violate it. And it emphasizes the importance of humanitarian access to vulnerable populations;


Resolution 2417 gives us the tools we need to tackle the issue of conflict and hunger. What we need is the collective political will to use those tools.


Madam President, this brings me to my second point.


In spite of unanimous commitments by this Council, the intention of Resolution 2417 is not being realised for those most affected.


We need to recognise that food security and armed conflict now has to be at the heart of the work this Council.  Conflict induced hunger is not a rare or infrequent occurrence anymore. It calls for our close attention and prioritization.


Conflict displaces people, destroys livelihoods, disrupts trade and the supply of food and agricultural inputs, damages infrastructure and reduces access to vital resources. This suffering is not limited to the most severe contexts – it affects millions of vulnerable people, in many conflict contexts across the globe.


Ireland is honoured to be working with Niger as the Focal Point on Hunger and Conflict on the Council for the next two years. We will host the first of the bi-annual briefings for 2021 next month, to discuss the findings of the upcoming joint WFP-FAO report to Council members on this issue. We intend to keep a strong focus on Hunger and Conflict throughout our two years on the Council.


Madam President, my third point is that we must adapt our approach to unique country contexts, and acknowledge the difference, the different ways in which food systems are damaged by conflict.


In situations of armed conflict, the Council must be seized of the need to ensure the proper functioning of food systems and local markets.


While rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access is vital during an acute food crisis, the Council must look at early action to prevent food insecurity and famine, especially to safeguard child and maternal health.


Early warning and early action leads to prevention. Prevention saves lives and prevents misery and saves money and allows food systems to survive.

Where there is good reason to fear that food insecurity could be setting in – including by the deliberate denial of humanitarian access – this Council must act. And it must act quickly.


Madam President, in closing, let us remember that the relationship between conflict and hunger is not new.


War by its very nature disrupts food systems. In the worst scenarios, hunger is used as a brutal and medieval tactic - and one which is in direct contravention of international law. 


All parties to armed conflicts must comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, including in relation to humanitarian access.


And those who fail to do so must be held fully accountable by this council. Resolution 2417, unanimously adopted by this Council, demands no less.


It is the responsibility of this Security Council to implement this Resolution. It is our duty, as UN Member States, to garner the political will to do so. And History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so.


Thank you.

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