Conflict and Food Security
If you don’t feed people, you feed conflict!
On March 11, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) started an open debate on the impact of conflict on food security with the concept note inviting members to discuss the worsening food security environments, relevant obligations under international humanitarian law, and challenges in mobilizing resources for assistance. In his address, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said, “Conflict drives hunger and famine; and hunger and famine drive conflict. When a country or region is gripped by conflict and hunger, they become mutually reinforcing. They cannot be resolved separately. Hunger and poverty combine with inequality, climate shocks, sectarian and ethnic tensions, and grievances over land and resources, to spark and drive conflict. At the same time, conflict forces people to leave their homes, land and jobs; disrupts agriculture and trade; reduces access to vital resources like water and electricity, and so drives hunger.”
In his statement to the Security Council, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Munir Akram, highlighted the plight of Kashmiris by saying that over the last year and a half, since India imposed a siege on the territory in August 2019, the people of Occupied Kashmir have suffered an economic loss of $3.5 billion. They have watched orchards full of apples go waste, but no means to distribute or send out the produce to buyers. He added that conflict is a major source of food insecurity across the globe, and Kashmir has become criminally trapped in the same situation.
Ambassador Akram hit the right nodes as the debate is of immense relevance to the prevailing situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Since India’s ultra-Hindu nationalist government changed the status of the disputed region in August 2019, setting out to change the demographic composition of its population, eight hundred million people have been forced to live in a state of siege. Participating in the discussion, Ambassador Munir Akram described in detail how violent repression by the Delhi government has deeply undermined the ability of Kashmiri people to secure food for their families.
The complete communications blackout, imposition of shoot-at-sight curfews, and severing of all transport links, enforced now for nearly 600 days, he explained, have prevented Kashmiri farmers from reaching their farmlands, resulting in acute food shortages. Thousands of acres of farmland remains untended. Agricultural products that constitute an entire year’s worth of income for most farmers had perished without reaching markets. Military siege has caused at least $3.5 billion in economic losses to the civilian population. It is not difficult to imagine the plight of these people when they cannot grow their own crops nor do they have money to buy foodstuff from the market. In fact, majority of the shops have also remained shut for most of the time; hence, those with means of earning livelihoods other than agriculture have no steady incomes, either, for buying decent, even adequate, food. As Ambassador Akram pointed out, such deliberate actions to coerce civilian population into submission constitute violations of UNSC Resolution 2417 (2018), which for the first time recognised the link between hunger and conflict, and the essential role of international humanitarian law in preventing and addressing hunger in armed conflicts, and inter alia, calls for protecting civilians, sources of food production and distribution.
There are at least two compelling reasons for the UNSC to work out a strategy aimed at mitigating the effects of conflict on the Kashmiri people. One, its own resolutions recognise Kashmir as a disputed region the future of which is to be decided by its people through a plebiscite. Two, Article 40 of the UN Charter mandates the Council to “prevent an aggravation of the situation” and, among other measures, calls for creation of conditions necessary for unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance. The UN is not expected to play its role in addressing the cause of this conflict through peaceful means. But if the present debate is to have a meaningful outcome, India must be made to show some respect for international humanitarian law.