As prepared for delivery.
Dear Excellencies, Ministers, distinguished panelists, colleagues and friends,
Since the UN Secretary-General’s call to action in February, there has been resolute action to scale up immediate famine prevention and response activities in North-East Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. In line with the 2030 Agenda’s principle of “leaving no-one behind” and the SDGs, the call to action spurred humanitarian and development partners to coalesce around the New Way of Working.
Ongoing and protracted conflict remains the key driver of the humanitarian crises in these four countries. The people suffering from famine and severe food insecurity require political solutions and investments in peaceful and inclusive societies. In each of the four countries, man-made factors have worsened food insecurity and led to today’s overwhelming humanitarian needs. Given the chronic and protracted nature of these crises, life-saving humanitarian assistance needs to be complemented by increased development and peacebuilding efforts to:
• address underlying root causes and risk factors,
• strengthen the resilience and capacities of individuals, communities and productive systems, and
• enable long-term economic recovery and social cohesion.
On average 80 per cent of people in the affected countries live in rural areas, therefore, supporting their livelihoods is a crucial element of preventing famine.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator and I have been leading a new mechanism – the IASC-UNDG Steering Committee on Famine Response and Prevention – to provide principal-level leadership and guidance in support of UN leadership and implementation at the country level. This has helped the UN leadership at the country level to engage differently, break down silos and identify priority interventions across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding nexus.
As the Emergency Relief Coordinator stated, response efforts in the four affected countries have held the most devastating impacts of famine at bay. I invite you to read the “Roadmap Report” that provides further details on what we have done differently. I would like to highlight a few specific examples of joint action of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding stakeholders towards collective outcomes:
• In North-East Nigeria, multi-dimensional response efforts are underway to address food insecurity, nutrition, as well as health, water and sanitation priorities. The UN, along with international partners, is supporting the Government’s Buhari Plan to guide humanitarian, recovery and socio-economic reconstruction efforts. The UN is providing direct support to the most exposed and vulnerable through improved service delivery and strengthening of livelihoods, including through training of farmers and unconditional cash grants to over 80,000 of the most vulnerable conflict-affected people. UNDP is also helping to reestablish effective community policing.
• In Somalia, since the onset of the current drought, the UN and the international community have sought to complement the humanitarian life-saving assistance with development and state-building activities. We are working with authorities at federal, state and local levels to manage the crisis, find durable solutions to displacement, and prevent the possibility of another natural disaster in the years to come. International support aligns with the government’s National Development Plan (NDP), which prioritizes resilience, community recovery, and restoration of state credibility. The UN and World Bank are now supporting the government to undertake a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) that will lead to a major platform for sustainable recovery and resilience-building to be launched before the end of this year. This platform will seek to address underlying causes of vulnerability, structural drivers of fragility, and to “break the cycle” of recurrent famine risk.
• In South Sudan, the humanitarian crisis requires an urgent life-saving response in the face of continued violence and severe and increasing food insecurity. At the same time, a sustainable solution to the crisis will depend on long-term support for recovery, peacebuilding and development. Without neglecting the emergency famine response, the UN is working to strengthen resilience, restore basic services and sustainable livelihoods, reinvigorate local economies and promote access to justice, peacebuilding, and reconciliation.
• In Yemen, the conflict has had a devastating impact on the economy and social services, pushing millions more into dire humanitarian need. The UN, the World Bank, and international partners in Yemen are implementing an integrated approach to famine prevention that complements emergency food assistance with support for nutrition, livelihoods, water and sanitation. Importantly, this support includes mechanisms to sustain essential services institutions, rehabilitate infrastructure and implement emergency employment programmes.
The complexity and interlinkages of the challenges on the ground in North-East Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen illustrate the clear need for the UN and its partners to work collectively and holistically, across different domains and functional areas, to reduce needs, risks and vulnerabilities, and break cycles of insecurity to prevent famine.
In all four countries, emergency life-saving needs are widespread and acute, but there are areas where a fragile stability has returned, and which need to be consolidated through concurrent development interventions to restore livelihoods, economic activity and access to services. Using development resources in this way can play a determining role in providing a sustainable ‘buffer’ against future disruptions and pave the ground for long-term recovery which, if done right, can prevent famine risk in the future.
We are seeing clear examples that such a joined up and dual track approach can work in each of the four countries. At the same time, we need to be find more innovative ways to bring development assistance in earlier, more flexibly and at scale in these responses. Bringing development assistance in earlier in contexts of increased famine risk is one part of the story. We also need to think creatively about how we phase and modulate our efforts over the short to long term, understanding that crisis mitigation and recovery are rarely linear processes—there is, in other words, no ‘day after’. In this regard, three distinct phases or types of development assistance oriented towards famine prevention and recovery can dovetail with humanitarian efforts:
1. In the short to medium term, development assistance should be oriented towards strengthening individual and household resilience through restoration of productive assets, employment and social safety nets;
2. In the medium to long-term, we must work to strengthen the local social, economic and governance systems essential to sustain individual and household resilience, including through restoration of markets and economic infrastructure, access to services, and improvement of local governance, including early warning and crisis management capacities; and
3. In the long-term we must turn our attention to core structural constraints and deficiencies. Development investments for enhancing and diversifying economic value chains, promoting trade, developing the private sector and enacting growth-focused legal and regulatory reforms will be essential for transformational changes and enhancements in productivity, and livelihoods, while reducing vulnerabilities to food insecurity.
Scaling up our efforts across the nexus does not only make sense from a pure humanitarian perspective, it also makes economic sense. There are significant economic benefits associated with development investments that enhance livelihoods, jobs, and access to services. Helping farmers restart and improve crop production yields multiple returns, including additional jobs, higher food availability and contributions to economic recovery and growth. Similarly, labor intensive public works generates not only jobs and higher household incomes; it also indirectly benefits wider populations who achieve productivity gains due to improved access to roads and markets. These and similar interventions have the added benefits of avoided costs—both the economic losses that would have occurred in the absence of assistance, and the costs associated with continued humanitarian assistance to meet immediate needs.
Development investments to improve access and delivery of essential services—notably education, health, water and sanitation and electricity—carry similar economic benefits. Not only does investment in national and local service delivery mechanisms contribute to long-term institutional strengthening, such investments are often cheaper to provide than costly temporary emergency services.
Targeted development investments– such as delivering services, strengthening institutions, and creating pathways to economic empowerment – can contribute to prevent violent extremism and are therefore also investments in reducing security challenges. UNDP recently launched a report that tells the stories of 495 voluntary recruits to extremist organizations, which illustrates that the majority of recruits come from borderlands or peripheral areas that have suffered generations of marginalization.
Working across silos requires new and innovative partnerships, such as: the joint work of the UN and the World Bank in Yemen, partnerships with regional stakeholders in Nigeria, NGOs and civil society actors in South Sudan, and with the private sector in Somalia and the diaspora.
For the UN and for our partners, the famine response and prevention efforts over the past few months were a test case for putting action behind the New Way of Working. This will shape our engagement moving forward – not just on the ground in North-East Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – but also for how the UN system and the international community bring together our humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts for a more comprehensive response to immediate relief needs and longer-term peace and resilience requirements in complex emergencies.