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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Food Crisis Escapes Security Council Scrutiny

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

United Nations, 07 May, (IPS): The food crisis that has triggered street demonstrations and riots in nearly 30 countries -- including Haiti, Indonesia, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, and most recently in Somalia -- continues to escape the scrutiny of the most powerful body at the United Nations: the Security Council.

"The Security Council would be remiss in carrying out its responsibility for maintaining peace and security if it fails to take the much needed preemptory steps to stop further deterioration of the security dimensions of the global food crisis," Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi ambassador, who once presided over Security Council meetings, told IPS.

Chowdhury, who was also the U.N. High Representative for Least Developed Countries (LDC), said the Security Council had in the past discussed, very rightly, HIV/AIDS and climate change in view of their possible impact on peace and security, though there are other bodies of the U.N. system dealing with those matters.

"It should be remembered that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) or the U.N.'s food-related entities (such as the Food and Agriculture Organization) do not have the mandate for the security-related matters of the food crisis," he added.

The ECOSOC is planning to hold a meeting on the food crisis in New York later this month, while the FAO is hosting a summit of world leaders Jun. 3-5 in Rome.

Asked if the current food crisis should be discussed by the Security Council, Ambassador John Sawers of Britain, who is presiding over Council meetings in May, told reporters Friday that although there were "security dimensions" to the issue, the overall question should be addressed in other forums.

Sawers specifically mentioned ECOSOC, "where everybody could take part on an equal footing to try to address, first of all, the development and humanitarian aspects of food security."

Consisting of 54 member states, ECOSOC is the U.N.'s principal organ that coordinates the economic and social work of the world body and its specialized agencies. But it does not have the mandatory powers of the Security Council, which is the most powerful political body at the United Nations, and the only one with veto powers.

The Security Council's primary functions relate to matters involving international peace and security.

"Sooner or later, the Security Council will have to set aside its largely political approach to conflict and recognize that war and civil strife cannot be prevented without addressing social and economic conditions," says James Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, which closely monitors the workings of the world body.

He said the twin crises of climate change and food symbolize this dangerous shortcoming.

"The food crisis, like the crisis of the environment, has been visibly approaching for a long time, but without any serious international action," Paul told IPS.

"The argument about which venue at the United Nations is most appropriate has some validity, but it is not convincing, since the Security Council is the powerful body and ECOSOC is, unfortunately, relatively weak," Paul argued.

While powerful interests and major powers hide behind these institutional arguments, the crisis worsens, he added.

Just in the past few months, 100 million additional people worldwide have been pushed into malnutrition and hunger, starvation looms, there have been food riots in some 30 countries.

"And yet the Security Council is conducting its business as usual, hoping that the problem will go away," Paul said.

"How many millions of starving people will it take before the international community wakes up and considers emergency action -- not just more money for food aid, but fundamental changes in the way the food system works, from farmers to consumers?" he asked.

Chowdhury pointed out that, "Coincidentally it was the UK that took an initiative recently to discuss climate change in the Council."

As a matter of fact, he said, "such openness on the part of the Council would make its deliberations and actions more attuned to the complexity of today's global security scene."

When Britain spearheaded a move last year to hold a Security Council meeting on climate change, arguing that global warming was a threat to international peace and security, the 130-member Group of 77 developing nations fired off a letter of protest.

The G77 told Ambassdor Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, who initiated the meeting in his capacity as president of the Security Council, that issues relating to climate change should be discussed by U.N. bodies responsible for sustainable development, not by the Security Council.

These "competent" U.N. bodies mandated to discuss environmental issues include the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Commission on Sustainable Development, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol.

But Jones Parry rejected the G77 argument and proceeded with the Security Council meeting chaired by then British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in April last year.

Last week, the same "discredited" G77 argument was used by the current British Ambassador John Sawers, this time to justify an ECOSOC meeting on the food crisis while expressing reservations over a proposal to hold a Security Council meeting.

"A classic case of political hypocrisy," said one Third World diplomat and a G77 member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said that "when G77 wanted climate change to be discussed by ECOSOC or other U.N. environmental bodies, the Brits rejected it."

"That meeting took place in the Security Council primarily to promote a selfish interest: to provide an international platform for their new foreign secretary."

- Inter Press Service -

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