BOSTON, Massachusetts — Every day, Ukrainians fear another onslaught of bombs from Russia, but they also worry that their food supply could run out since the war brought their planting season to a screeching halt. In Yemen, people are fleeing from war violence with no protection from the country’s rapidly worsening starvation crisis. Globally in 2021, about 139 million people were facing hunger due to conflict. U.S. Senate resolution S.Res.669 is looking to identify and denounce the deliberate deprivation of food as a weapon of war.
Prompted by Yemen and Ukraine
International conflicts are taking place all over the globe, from Yemen and Ukraine, to multiple countries in the Horn of Africa, such as Ethiopia and Syria. The vulnerable people — predominantly women and children — that are fighting, stuck or hoping to flee these warzones are suffering from severe food insecurity and starvation.
In remarks, the Senate cosponsors of S.Res.669 emphasized that the situations in these countries — primarily the worsening crises in Yemen and Ukraine — display why the U.S. must take action.
Since the civil war in Yemen began in 2014, it has taken a heavy toll on residents and the country is now having the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Food insecurity is overwhelming civilians and humanitarians are citing that the number of people experiencing catastrophic levels of starvation will increase five times over the remainder of 2022. According to the U.N. long-lasting food staples have slowly started to disappear across the country and now parents are feeding their only remaining food to their young children.
Russia’s invasion has left one in three Ukrainians food insecure. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), many of the residents who fled the country are still displaced and in need of a consistent food supply. Those who stayed or returned to Ukraine are feeling the war’s interruption of the planting season, in which bombings destroyed countless food stocks, agricultural assets and water supplies.
The Black Sea basin is one of the world’s most important areas for grain production, but it has remained shut down amid persisting Russian threats. European countries, the U.S. and other allies are encountering violence as they try to deliver humanitarian aid to the country, leaving the crisis with no end in sight.
Condemning Hunger as a Weapon of War
The U.S. Senate introduced S.Res.669 on May 26, 2022, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The summary of the resolution says it is “condemning the use of hunger as a weapon of war and recognizing the effect of conflict on global food security and famine,” and it passed out of the Committee in under a month on June 23.
In its current amended form, the resolution calls on the Senate to condemn hunger as a weapon of war and to demand action from the U.S. government. It first lays out that the Senate should condemn the use of hunger as a weapon if one party in a conflict:
- Starves citizens directly or indirectly.
- Intentionally and recklessly destroys or removes objects that are necessary for food production and distribution.
- Denies humanitarian access and the objects that are necessary for survival.
- Intentionally interrupts the market systems that sustain communities, including through the prevention of travel.
If the Senate is able to condemn the use of hunger as a weapon of war, then it should also call on the U.S. government to:
- Prioritize diplomatic efforts to call out and address those using hunger as a weapon of war.
- Continue efforts already underway that address global food insecurity through humanitarian aid.
- Confirm that all crisis response groups are aware of those using hunger as a weapon of war and to adapt accordingly.
- Ensure that anyone who uses hunger as a weapon of war is held responsible.
“The United States has a responsibility to hold those who use hunger as a weapon of war accountable, to pursue every humanitarian avenue possible to ensure people have access to food, and to strengthen the global food supply against future threats,” Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said in a joint press release with the resolution’s original cosponsors.
The Senate resolution has bipartisan support from Democratic senators Merkely, Booker and Bob Mendez of New Jersey and Republican senators Todd Young of Indiana, John Thune of South Dakota and James Rich of Idah, as well as additional cosponsors from both parties. Sending aid to Ukraine has been an agreeable policy in the politically polarized Senate, so S.Res.669 is expected to do well in its next steps.
S.Res.669 is a simple resolution, meaning the changes it outlines only apply to the Senate and therefore, it only requires a Senate vote. Simple resolutions express priorities and sentiments, but they do not ever become law.
In order to pass, the resolution needs unanimous approval in the full Senate. A similar resolution, H.Res.922, was introduced to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 9 and is still waiting on a vote, but it could be successful with bipartisan support.
– Delaney Murray