UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that for the first time recognizes the link between conflict and hunger and strongly condemns the use of starvation as a method of warfare.
The resolution calls on all parties to conflict to comply with international humanitarian law that bans attacks on civilians and critical civilian infrastructure including farms, markets, water systems and other essential items to produce and transport food.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently reported that the number of people who are “food insecure” is on the rise for the first time after decades of decrease and that the main cause is conflict. The U.N. World Food Program reported in March that between 108 million and 124 million people in conflict situations suffer from severe malnutrition.
Lise Gregoire Van Haaren, the Netherlands deputy ambassador, told the council after the vote that the resolution was “a landmark text” and a “significant step toward making the use of starvation as a method of warfare a crime of the past.”
“Innocent civilians suffering from hunger due to the consequences of war are at the heart of this text,” she said. “It clearly acknowledges the fact that conflict can lead to food security and recognizes the need to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity.”
For thousands of years, combatants have used sieges, the burning of crops and scorched-earth operations as battle tactics, including in the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s and Indian wars during the 19th century. More recently, the Syrian government, especially, and rebel groups have besieged towns and cities during the seven-year Syrian war, leading to severe malnutrition and in some cases death from starvation.
The resolution stresses that trying to starve civilians in conflict is prohibited by international law.
The measure, which was sponsored by the Netherlands, Kuwait, Ivory Coast and Sweden, authorizes an early-warning system for hunger in conflict. It asks the secretary-general “to report swiftly to the council when the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in armed conflict contexts occurs.”
The resolution also urges all parties to conflicts to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure “safe and unimpeded access” to deliver food and other aid to civilians in need.
It also reiterates that Security Council sanctions resolutions can be used against “individuals or entities obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance, or access to, or distribution of, humanitarian assistance.”
Muhannad Hadi, the World Food Program’s regional director for the Mideast, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said the agency is “extremely happy with the resolution” and hopes its effect will be felt by the men, women and children the agency serves all over the world “who are the true victims of the conflicts.”
He described seeing a woman with a child poking through a garbage pile at the same time as a dog looking for something to eat in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, when he was there about 10 days ago.
“As a human being and also as a father, as a parent, that really broke my heart,” Hadi said at a news conference. “This is the example that any warring parties need to look at before they decide to go into an armed conflict. Who pays the price of any armed conflict? This is the big question.”
He said the “celebration” for Thursday’s resolution will be when the U.N., World Food Program and the international community are given free access to reach all people in need and make sure no one “has to go to bed on an empty stomach.”
The celebration will also take place “when there are no more besieged areas that we have no access to, when we make sure that the victims of the wars are protected, but most importantly when we know that the lives and the livelihoods of those people are protected and respected,” Hadi said.