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Statement of the Executive Director to the Security Council: Africa's Food Crises as a Threat to Peace and Security

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James T. Morris, Executive Director, World Food Programme
A few weeks ago, President Obasanjo of Nigeria visited our Executive Board and said: "A hungry person is an angry person. It is in all our interests to take away the cause of this anger."

The greatest humanitarian crisis we face today is not in Darfur, Afghanistan or North Korea -- it is the gradual disintegration of the social structures in southern Africa and hunger is playing a critical part. A lethal mix of AIDS, recurring drought and failing governance is eroding social and political stability. Last year alone, 1 million lives were lost to AIDS in the region and we are only now entering the peak impact period for the pandemic, 2005-2007. On average, life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years. In North America, Europe, and Japan, our children can expect to live nearly twice as long as the children of Malawi, Zambia or Zimbabwe. In fact, life expectancy in much of southern Africa is barely more than it was in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Earlier this month I completed my fifth visit to southern Africa as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs, visiting Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Zimbabwe. On this trip I was joined by my colleagues Ann Veneman, the new Executive Director of UNICEF and Peter Piot of UNAIDS. I know there is quite a bit of discussion here in New York on UN reform -- including sweeping proposals for centralized humanitarian funds and joint governing boards for UN agencies. I am pleased to report concrete progress in UN reform where it matters most - in the field; and for whom it matters most - the people that we serve. There is a tremendous spirit of cooperation in the region with real, field-based efforts to develop programs together at the country and regional levels. There is a lot at stake -- the UN collectively has $500 million in assistance committed in southern Africa and the challenges are enormous. People need the UN's help as never before.

Earlier this year we estimated about 3.5 million people would need emergency food aid in southern Africa. That figure has more than doubled to 8.3 million with the return of drought conditions to some areas. More than 4 million people are at risk in Zimbabwe, 1.6 million in Malawi, 1.2 million in Zambia, and 900,000 in Mozambique. At the same time, the prevalence of HIV is not only taking a toll in lives lost and reduced life expectancy, it is directly undermining the capacity of communities to produce enough food. The impact of this catastrophe on food production is enormous. HIV prevalence ranges from a low of 12 percent in Mozambique, all the way up to 42 percent in Swaziland. Government ministers talk anxiously about losing their closest colleagues to AIDS and how they worry their educational and health systems are collapsing. In 2003 alone, Lesotho lost a third of its health workers and 15 percent of its teachers.

In Zambia, President Mwanawasa has told me teachers die of AIDS twice as fast as they can train replacements. Every once in a while you sense the undercurrent of alarm in these discussions -- a vague fear these states may one day function in name only. Outside many rural villages the land lies fallow with no one to till it, as weekly funerals have left more graves than inhabitants. Because of the pandemic, a generation has gone missing, and there is no one to teach the next generation to farm.

AIDS has claimed the lives of nearly 8 million African farmers - more farmers than there are in North America and the European Union combined. If every American living in a city from Boston to Washington suddenly vanished, we could replace them all with Africa's orphans. These social crises - which I also highlighted in my 2003 address to this Council - continue to linger without enough public attention.

I wish I could stir up more public and media interest in those now suffering in southern Africa. I recall vividly a 70 year old grandmother I met on my first trip to Swaziland. She and her blind 80 year old husband were heading a household with a dozen small children. Some were her grandchildren; others not. In much of Africa, villages act as extended families -- it is their form of social security. That system is now stretched to the breaking point where AIDS has taken its greatest toll.

Globally, hunger is a symptom of failure -- a failed harvest, failure to cope with a natural disaster, and failure to overcome social inequities, ethnic strife and racial hatred. But addressing hunger and malnutrition -- and saving the women and children who suffer most -- requires the cooperation of those in charge where these very failures take place. Even with the cooperation of civil authorities, delivering food and other humanitarian aid is a dangerous business -- we have lost more staff than any agency but DPKO. Assaults on convoys and hostage taking are not uncommon. We have had staff summarily executed by insurgents in Burundi, while the Taliban not only arrested and harassed our staff, they fired a handheld missile at one of our planes in northern Afghanistan.

The United Nations has a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler. In some ways, he and I could not be more different in our political and economic outlooks -- he is a leading Swiss socialist and I am a confirmed American capitalist. We do not see the world through the same lens, but on one point we could not agree more: vulnerable, hungry people -- especially women and children -- have a right to food. And we agree that food should never be a weapon in war, or an instrument of diplomatic coercion. The most eloquent affirmation of this principle came from President Ronald Reagan when he approved US aid to Ethiopia in 1985 during the great famine there, despite his strong antipathy toward the Mengistu Communist regime. He put it quite simply: "A hungry child knows no politics." Whatever a government's perceived sins or the level of popular indignation, we cannot withhold aid as a political tactic in an emergency.

Sadly, in Africa the use of food as a weapon persists. Over the last decade, we have seen starvation used as a weapon in war -- in Darfur, southern Sudan, Somalia, Angola, northern Uganda, the DR Congo and West Africa. The tactic, by the way, is by no means unique to Africa -- it was employed in Europe as recently as 1992 by the Bosnian Serbs in the siege of Sarajevo. When hatred strips us of our civility, we are all capable of incredible brutality. The most egregious example of the use of food as a weapon today is in Darfur, where the situation continues to deteriorate. In January we estimated that 2.8 million people would need food aid to avert mass starvation, while today we believe the number is closer to 3.5 million. We are doing relatively well on the food front, but camp workers live in fear that as food supplies in Darfur dwindle even more people will be drawn into the camps where the UN and NGOs are woefully short of being able to provide water, sanitation and basic health care.

Peace, Stability and Hunger

In much of Africa, the prevalence of hunger is an accurate barometer for the level of social instability. It does not matter whether that instability is caused by civil conflict, drought, AIDS, poor governance, or any combination of those factors -- hunger almost always comes with it. A UN review of a half dozen conflicts in Africa over a 20 year period showed an absolute correlation between armed conflict and reduced agricultural production, on average by 20 percent, and with that a rise in the prevalence of hunger. Conflict clearly can cause hunger, but what about the reverse? The relation between hunger and conflict is similar to the relation between hunger and poverty. Hunger is both a cause and an effect of poverty. It is also both a cause and effect of political conflict, though hunger is usually only one of a number of factors at play.

All told, one African in three is malnourished and there has been little sign of change in that over the last decade. In Central Africa where war in the DR Congo has disrupted the region, the percentage of undernourished people rose from 53 percent in 1995 to more than 70 percent today. In other areas where conflict has been less of a factor, the nutritional situation of the people has improved -- Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and Madagascar. WFP, FAO, USAID and others engage in an exercise called vulnerability mapping in which we use various indicators such as market prices, rates of malnutrition and household food consumption patterns to put together maps showing hunger "hot spots". The correlation we see between these hot spots and political violence in places like Somalia, the Sudan, and northern Uganda is striking.

Chronic Hunger is a Destabilizing Influence

Chronic hunger in the African countryside is a destabilizing influence that undermines political stability and security. It spurs the continuing migration of rural people into cities, where the existence of at least some basic social services -- including subsidized or free food -- acts as a lure. There is a chance that as ARVs become more widely available -- undoubtedly first in urban areas -- they too will act as a magnet in rural-urban migration. Waves of AIDS orphans are fleeing the countryside and arrive in cities without any means of economic support, often contributing to social disintegration and crime. Hungry children are far more easily recruited as child soldiers in places like northern Uganda. We need a dedicated effort through school feeding and other activities to keep these children in rural areas and in school.

Projections for urban population growth in sub-Saharan Africa are among the highest in the world with cities like Nairobi, Lagos and Lusaka experiencing growth rates of over 6 percent per annum. The impact of rural-urban migration on employment in Africa has been precisely the opposite of Western Europe and the United States -- it has led to higher rather than lower rates of unemployment and social instability. At a certain point the capacities of municipal governments are stretched to the limit and social demands are not met, aggravating internal political and social tensions, especially among competing ethnic groups perhaps not accustomed to sharing the same political space.

There is little concerted investment to encourage Africans to remain in the countryside. African Governments and international donors have neglected investment in agriculture which aggravates the problem of poverty. In countries like Uganda and Kenya, for example, over 80 percent of the poorest people are rural. Yet if you look at ODA statistics, the percentage of funding devoted to agriculture has dropped from 12 percent in the early 1980s to a mere 4 percent today. The current terms of trade for the continent's agricultural products are also poor, further undermining rural economies. This, by the way, makes progress in the Doha Round on dismantling subsidies and other trade distorting practices critical for rural Africans.

Competition for limited food resources can ignite violence and instability. The fact that African agriculture is still so dependent on rainfall and there are comparatively large pastoral populations contributes to population movements that can also incite conflict. The violence in Darfur, for example, has reduced the movements of nomads and led to overgrazing in areas with insufficient water, and the result has been drought-like conditions. We have seen this problem for decades not just in Sudan, but in Mauritania, Senegal and other countries as well. When families can neither plant nor market livestock products, they begin to move. The economy in North Darfur is now in shambles. Most markets are closed, fighting has reduced cultivation, and cereal prices have skyrocketed.

In Dar Zagawa, insecurity has pushed people northwards, placing unbearable strains on scarce supplies of water and wild foods. In March an interagency mission warned that without more aid there would be further displacement and growing tension between host and IDP communities over water and we could see famine-like conditions.

In southern Sudan, access to food was used as a weapon at the height of the civil war and the Bahr El-Ghazal famine in 1988 cost a quarter of a million lives. Now that there is a peace agreement, ironically support for food aid has dwindled and this may well undermine the peace. Paradoxically, because of food shortages and inter-clan violence in the south, exacerbated by disputes over sparse grazing land and water, there are now more displaced Sudanese fleeing into neighboring Kenya and Uganda as refugees than returning home. Donor support for food assistance in southern Sudan has plummeted, which is ironic given the investment of over $2 billion in humanitarian aid in Operation Lifeline Sudan before the peace agreement.

The continuing presence of large numbers of IDPs and refugees is inherently a threat to both political and economic stability and the threat of hunger presents significant complications in resettling them. It is difficult to persuade a family in Angola, for example, to return to their home village if they do not have sufficient food tide them over to the next harvest. WFP invests heavily -- when we get the funding -- in repatriation packages that allow ex-combatants to feed themselves and their families while they get re-established at home. Food aid has been a critical component in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts in Africa. In the last five years alone, we have targeted 800,000 combatants in Liberia, Burundi, Somalia, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Angola. Just this past week we approved a new demobilization aid package for 150,000 former army and militia combatants in the DR Congo where pressure to demobilize and disarm has grown in recent months.

In the West Africa, where thousands are still displaced by over a decade of war, food aid is used to help restore social and economic sectors. As one WFP report noted, "today's stability is fragile, and progress is impossible if people lack basics like food, shelter, and the means to keep their families healthy." WFP food aid is now a tool to support education, help rebuild communities and give people the means to safeguard their own welfare.

Although a peace deal brokered by South Africa has encouraged some optimism with regard to Cote d'Ivoire, the country remains dangerously divided. Disarmament was due to start this week but will be a challenge. WFP operations target 922,500 people in the region 700,000 in Cote d'Ivoire itself and the remainder in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana. WFP is providing general rations to 26,500 predominantly Liberian refugees and others displaced within the country in several locations. The fighting in Cote d'Ivoire ostensibly began over political disenfranchisement. Here again competition for limited agricultural resources played a role as the economy sputtered, living standards fell and the number of internal migrants began to rise.

The Politics of Humanitarian Aid

In our view there are few phenomena in modern life as political as humanitarian aid. The world's major donors all make clearly political choices on which humanitarian aid projects to fund. Some make these choices in an effort to have a global scope to their emergency aid, others concentrate regionally, on former colonies or where they see the greatest socioeconomic interest at home. Some time ago we compared aid channeled through WFP with the broader patterns of ODA which includes humanitarian assistance and the results were interesting. In 2003, only 23 percent of total ODA went to LDCs and 24 percent to Africa. WFP's portfolio is heavily emergency oriented and heavily African in focus. Three quarters of that aid went to LDCs and African countries. Neither Africa nor the least developed countries has been the priority in ODA to date.

While overall commitments to ODA are climbing and recent European initiatives are especially welcome, food aid which is critically important in Africa is in sharp decline. Globally, it dropped by more than 1.8 million metric tons last year, excluding Iraq. This is happening despite the fact that the number of hungry people worldwide actually rose from 790 million in the mid 1990s to 852 million today.

Few Consolidated Appeals in Africa are well funded -- Somalia is at 39 percent, the Republic of the Congo at 30 percent, DRC 35 percent, Cote d'Ivoire at 30 percent and Sudan at 33 percent. But these are the fortunate countries. Niger has only received 11 percent of its flash appeal, Central African Republic 17 percent and Djibouti only 5 percent. Occasionally I have thought the worst place for a hungry child to live in Africa today is a country that is at peace with its neighbors and relatively stable, but just plain poor. Funding levels rise with the incidence of violence and media interest.

We are encouraged by growing donor attention to some of the less popular emergencies worldwide. President Bush's recent announcement of 50,000 tons on food aid for the DPRK was particularly welcome, as was an earlier donation by Germany. The Blair Commission has been extraordinary in focusing public attention on both humanitarian and developmental needs in Africa. Presidents Lula, Chirac, and Lagos and Prime Minister Zapatero are working together to give hunger political and funding priority.

Encouraging Signs for Africa

Before closing, I would like to take a moment to thank members of the Council for their support Africa's hungry and to the World Food Programme. France has recently doubled its contribution, Japan, Denmark and the United Kingdom have been consistently strong contributors for emergencies, both Russia and China have joined the ranks of our donors in the last few years, and in 2004 the United States provided over $1 billion annually for the fourth straight year.

There are encouraging signs for Africa -- the G8 debt initiative, renewed popular interest as seen in the revival of LiveAid, and the Bush-Blair announcement of $674 million in emergency food aid, and, most importantly, the work of NEPAD and other home grown development initiatives. WFP itself is trying to be more creative in its approach and is looking at a famine insurance scheme in Ethiopia -- a country with the highest per capita donations for emergencies, and the lowest for development. We are also looking at ways to maximize the impact of donations by changing our business processes. Ultimately, our goal is to be out of business in Africa. We are extraordinarily proud that globally WFP has phased out food aid in 25 countries since the mid-1990s. One day we want to phase out of Africa too.

In 2000 at the Millennium Summit, every nation here made just that pledge -- to halve hunger and poverty. It is time we began to show progress and with that build peace and security in a troubled continent.