Ahead of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and New York Climate Week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on world leaders to rally around the three areas of hunger, child survival and the climate crisis to save the lives of the extreme poor. 

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said,

“This week, world leaders will convene in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly—a gathering that has unfortunately become notable not for the combined political and diplomatic power concentrated in one place at one time, but for the annual failure to leverage that power to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

“UNGA 2023 arrives in a world of renewed great power rivalry, deepening distrust between the Global North and Global South, a growing divide between stable and fragile contexts, and public frustration with how their governments use resources and manage crises. The biggest victims of geopolitical competition are the most vulnerable, who are the collateral damage of decisions designed to score points but which in fact cost lives.

More than half the world is off track to fulfill the SDGs by 2030, and the picture is most serious for communities that are conflict-affected, climate-vulnerable and home to pockets of extreme poverty. When the SDGs were adopted in 2015, over 260 million of the extreme poor, 35% of the global total, lived in conflict-affected states. By the end point of the SDGs in 2030, this figure will have nearly doubled. Today one-third of all people living in extreme poverty are concentrated in just 15 countries that are both climate-vulnerable and conflict-affected.  This is the new geography of crisis. The growing risk is not just that individuals are being left behind by the SDGs, it’s that entire communities, even entire countries, are being left behind.

“The IRC is convinced there is a way for world leaders to unite: focus on three areas where the most vulnerable are being grossly failed. These are hunger, child survival and climate crisis, representing not only the tip of the spear of the SDGs, but where concerted action across global divides would reap the greatest life-saving dividends. 

“While humanitarian solutions alone cannot solve political problems, political solutions are not possible without humanitarian solutions.  The true test for global leaders this week is whether they can show progress against the most basic questions facing vulnerable communities around the world.”

Laura Kyrke-Smith, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee UK, said,

“The UK’s leadership is critical to tackle these challenges. We appreciate Minister Mitchell’s commitment to this agenda and are pleased that alongside Kenya and Somalia, the UK is co-hosting our side event with Save the Children and World Vision International: “Promoting Child Survival in the Hunger and Malnutrition Crisis: Tackling Child Wasting and Strengthening Primary Health Care in Humanitarian Settings”. 

“While the UK’s foreign aid budget is constrained, it can still help steer the global agenda to better support people affected by conflict and crisis. This event is an opportunity for the UK to hear the calls of affected countries on the frontline of the global food security crisis, and ensure proven, cost-effective solutions and tangible action are at the heart of the upcoming global food security summit. With nine countries at risk of famine by the end of this year - we have no time to waste.”

IRC Calls to Action - and Proposed Humanitarian Solutions

Hunger: Avoid famine and reduce by half the number of people living in emergency or catastrophic food insecurity.  More than 40% of people globally who cannot afford adequate food live in just five conflict-affected countries—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Yemen. The food security picture heading into 2024 looks especially ominous, making it harder to avoid the rising threat of famine and significant deaths from hunger and malnutrition next year. Critical to preventing famine from taking root is a focused effort targeting the world’s most at-risk communities.

The world needs an empowered body with the authority to galvanise collective action in response to early warnings of famine. The High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine (HLTF), set up two years ago by the U.N. Secretary General, should play this critical role, but it needs commitment from political and U.N. leaders to fulfill its mandate. A re-energised HLTF should break down silos, focus attention and galvanise early action from donors, international financial institutions, climate, humanitarian and development actors to prevent famine in the most at-risk countries.The task force should support efforts to scale up humanitarian responses and turn plans into action.

Child Survival: Close the gap in treating extreme malnutrition in children. Wasting, or acute malnutrition, is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in children under age 5 worldwide, making it one of the top threats to child wellness and survival. But deaths due to wasting are preventable. A proven solution, using a shelf-stable, fortified peanut paste known as Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), exists that helps 92% of acutely malnourished children recover, yet 80% of children suffering from acute malnutrition historically do not have access to this life-saving remedy. Additionally, the current treatment and delivery system is unnecessarily complex, inefficient and bifurcated, with two U.N. agencies (WFP and UNICEF) delivering two products to treat severe and moderate acute malnutrition separately.

The goal of closing the persistent 80% treatment gap and saving the lives of millions of children threatened by childhood wasting is within reach, but will require a new approach to how the world fights childhood acute malnutrition. The IRC is calling for the adoption of a simplified, streamlined approach to diagnosis and treatment that breaks down the existing bifurcation. More than a decade of IRC evidence shows this simplified, combined approach increases the cost-effectiveness and scalability of treatment by using 39% less RUTF and costing 20% less per severely malnourished child treated. Critical to its success is a people-first delivery model focused on the role of community health workers in malnutrition treatment and delivery. The adoption of national nutrition plans is also a key component of this new approach, creating a more focused, context-oriented strategy to address different barriers to treatment. 

The Climate Crisis: Improve climate readiness and reduce climate vulnerability. The communities the IRC serves are increasingly left out of global efforts on climate action. The IRC calls for solutions to improve the climate readiness and reduce the climate vulnerability of the 15 countries that are experiencing the compound crisis of conflict and climate, including Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The solution to making climate action work for the world’s most vulnerable communities is by taking a people-first approach to deliver climate financing that is adequate in scale, accessible to vulnerable communities and appropriate for the context-specific challenges at hand. This requires unlocking more funding, recommitting to and increasing the $100 billion climate pledge, and increasing the use of grants and low-cost loans instead of non-concessional debt. This funding needs to be more accessible for conflict-affected communities by bringing in local civil society groups and women-led organisations.

It is critical to invest in context-appropriate interventions to strengthen climate resilience and adaptation in these settings and generate evidence of what works. This includes supporting and testing the impact of anticipatory action and food security efforts, such as the anticipatory cash and seed security initiatives the IRC is implementing in Nigeria and northeast Syria