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Statement by Executive Director of WFP

Statement by the Executive Director of World Food Programme to the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the IFAD Governing Council

19 February 2003
Rome, Italy

Your Excellency President Ciampi, Mr. Secretary-General, Mayor Veltroni, Director General Diouf, President Bage, and Members of the Governing Council.

Among poverty's many faces, hunger is the most desperate and degrading. Hunger robs its victims of their strength, their dignity, their hope. Most people in richer nations -- Europeans, North Americans, Japanese -- have lost touch with the reality of hunger. Hunger is not something most of them have ever experienced themselves or are likely to have seen among their neighbors. So it is no wonder we are losing ground in the battle to end it.

But hunger is still very much with us. In the 1990s, poverty was reduced by 20 percent worldwide, while hunger -- its most extreme manifestation -- was cut by barely 5 percent. If you exclude China from the data, which accounted for two-thirds of the reduction in global hunger, the number of hungry people actually rose in much of the developing world.

Despite the concerted efforts of FAO, IFAD and WFP, I cannot say the resurgence of hunger has received much attention from the media. Perhaps that is because there is such a long history of progress. We have always assumed hunger was declining and would continue to do so. In the 1960s, one person in three worldwide knew what it was like to be hungry and malnourished, while today, even with recent setbacks, that figure is less than one in 7. But much of that progress is being undermined and perhaps no agency is more aware of that than the World Food Programme, as we struggle to bring food aid to the growing number of families living on the brink of starvation.

While I have spent much of my life in humanitarian work, I am relatively new to the arena of food issues. I have had a sharp learning curve to follow and thanks to colleagues like President Boge and Director General Diouf, I have learned a great deal. There has been no time to waste. From the very first day on the job, I found myself squarely in the middle of crises and controversy -- blockages in humanitarian aid to Palestinian families, heated debates about GM foods, dwindling food aid for children in North Korea, and massive food shortages in southern Africa. And there is yet another challenge for WFP looming on the horizon. It has been our responsibility to monitor and manage the Oil for Food Program in Iraq and, in the event of war, we will be called on -- as we were in Afghanistan, Kosovo and East Timor -- to ensure people are fed.

For those of you not too familiar with WFP, we are now the world's largest humanitarian agency and provide about 40 percent of global food aid. On our emergency side we help refugees, displaced people, victims of war and natural disaster; on our development side we run special nutrition programs for women and children, school feeding, and food for work operations. All told in 2001 we fed 77 million people in 82 countries.

The outlook for 2003 is daunting. To give you an idea of the strain we now face, our needs for food aid in Africa alone this year are equal to all our operations worldwide in 2002. We will need nearly a half billion US dollars more just to meet most -- but not all -- emergency demand, leaving little room to use food aid to support long-term development.

Sometimes the perspective of a newcomer can shed new light on a problem, so I would like to share two of my many impressions since taking over at WFP.

First ,we must do far more to get out the message that we are losing ground in the battle against hunger. The Rome food agencies -- IFAD, FAO and WFP -- and the NGO community are confronted with a major communications challenge. That fact is clearly reflected in how little donors governments spend on both food aid and longer term development aid for agriculture compared to other types of assistance. But it is not just the donors who are not getting the message, it is the countries facing hunger themselves. They persist in cheap food policies and an urban bias in their national investments that undermine their own long-term food security. In the wake of significant pledges at the Monterrey Summit to rebuild ODA, the Rome agencies must press their case and press it hard on behalf of the world's hungry.

Among some academics and aid agencies, there is a troubling tendency to pit food aid against longer term investments in agriculture and rural development, as though you could not invest in both. Many of you have heard -- probably a few times too often -- the saying: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and he can feed himself for life." This is the kind of argument we hear against food aid. Well, the reality is that most hungry people are getting neither the fish, nor the fishing lesson. Lennart Boge, Jacques Diouf and I have said time and again that what is needed is a two track approach -- we must fight hunger and malnutrition and the disabling effects they have on people today, while investing in agriculture and rural development so they can feed themselves tomorrow.

A huge burden of hunger continues to be borne by women and children.

-- FAO reports that 300 million children are chronically undernourished and UNICEF tells us 100 million children fail to go to school where they could learn the skills to help them overcome hunger

-- Twenty-nine countries have stunting rates among children of over 30 percent, with some climbing over half. In 1998, not long after the food crisis peaked there, nearly two out of three children in North Korea were stunted from chronic, long-term malnutrition.

-- Sadly, stunting is the fate of the more fortunate among the world's hungry children. Twenty percent of Afghan children do not survive to celebrate their fifth birthday and hunger is largely to blame.

Last year WHO released a report ranking the greatest threats to health and life. In a world afflicted by violence, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, you would expect one of them to take the lead. But the greatest threat to life remains what it was ten years ago, a hundred years ago, a millennium ago -- it is hunger. However you paint the picture, it is obvious we are falling far short of our goals to reach those who are hungry and malnourished. At the rate we are going, we will surely not meet the Millennium Goals of halving hunger by 2015.

With this said, there are signs of progress.

-- On the food aid front, the United States just announced a $250 million supplemental appropriation to help cope with Africa's severe food shortages, especially in the Horn of Africa, the southern of the continent, and parts of the Sahel.

-- France will host the G8 Summit this summer in Evian and we are hoping a special initiative on famine will be on the agenda. The Secretary General, Director General Diouf and I will be meeting with G8 representatives in the coming weeks. In anticipation, President Bush has announced a new $200 million famine fund for use on both food aid and other longer term measures to build food security.

-- Finally, from WFP's perspective, another bright sign is that eight of our 10 largest donors have boosted contributions, with the European Union and its member states adding $150 million over 2001 levels. We are also seeing commitments by nontraditional donors like India and Russia, and more generous funding from OPEC. I would be remiss if I did not note that Italy has been among the leaders -- more than tripling its donation over the last 5 years and helping fund critical operations like North Korea where we are falling short and have had to cut off 3 million children and the elderly from food rations.

The second observation I would like to share is the great value of solid and broad partnerships in combating hunger.

Some months ago, the Secretary-General asked me to be his Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in southern Africa. What we are facing there is a food crisis of a different order; one quite materially different from the past. What makes it so different is the prevalence of AIDS. Stephen Lewis, the Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and I visited the region two weeks ago. We both left with the impression of societies on the verge of collapse.

The statistics on AIDS in Africa are frightening and its link to hunger is clear:

-- more than 7 million African farmers have lost their lives in the pandemic
-- there are 11 million orphans who will not have a parent to teach them how to grow food or manage a household food supply
-- the staffs of Health and Agriculture Ministries have been decimated. Stephen Lewis often refers to a meeting in which 10 representatives of the EU came to meet with a Minister of Agriculture in one country, The Minister arrived at the meeting alone, explaining that most of his senior colleagues were sick or had already succumbed to AIDS.

What can we do? Well, first we have to approach these problems as partners, not competitors. The UN has assembled a terrific team with representatives from half a dozen agencies in Johannesburg to work on the southern Africa crisis and I am pleased to report that we are holding our own on the food aid front. While Zimbabwe remains a concern, in part because of its political volatility, we have held back famine in the rest of the region. One of the biggest problems we have -- and this pattern has repeated itself over and over in recent years -- is that donors commit their funds to food aid for immediate relief, but then neglect the nonfood needs, for example for health and sanitation, essential to make food assistance effective. At the same time. the longer term activities of FAO, WHO, IFAD and others so essential to prevent a recurrence of famine are also neglected. WFP is now near the 90 percent level of funding for food aid; while our UN colleagues are down around 20 percent. That has to change.

Donors and the southern Africa countries themselves must take an integrated approach, based on cooperation. We have seen strong interagency cooperation in the southern Africa emergency, and it has clearly paid off for the hungry.

How we handled the GM foods issue is a prime example. In some quarters, there is a tremendous amount of confusion, misinformation and controversy about GM foods and this almost led to a halt in WFP's deliveries of desperately needed food in southern Africa last summer. Directors General Diouf and Brundtland and I were able to hammer out a UN position and get the message out to the governments of the region that the GM foods being donated were safe to eat. That was critical in unblocking the shipments to 5 out of the 6 countries facing widespread starvation -- not a perfect score, but a very good one. In the case of GM maize, these governments opted to mill so there was no accidental introduction through planting by food aid recipients. Whatever your view on GM foods may be, governments need to be able to choose when and how they adopt GM technology and its vast potential. The policy we worked on with FAO and WHO both gave them that choice and sped up delivery of safe food to the hungry.

Over the long-term we need to partner more to give southern Africa a helping hand --

-- with micro-projects like those IFAD funds so well, we can help build community leaders and create lasting infrastructure
-- with labor saving approaches to agricultural production that reduce the energy burden on HIV positive farmers and their families
-- with investments and policy changes that promote a market approach and support the private sector to revive food output. Much of the problem in Zimbabwe has stemmed from actions that undermine private producers and traders.
-- and finally with measures that help children get an education. One of the most appalling aspects of the current AIDS crisis is that it is ripping apart the entire educational structure. The President of Zambia told me they were losing 2000 teachers a year to AIDS. With their parents gone, who will teach these millions of orphans to farm, to manage their households, to become engaged in their communities?

In Africa and across the globe, WFP's partnership with IFAD and FAO is already working for the hungry poor in so many concrete ways:

In Honduras we are promoting school feeding together, in Ethiopia we are creating school vegetable gardens, in Egypt we are improving water and land management and supporting community development. The long-standing cooperation between IFAD and WFP in China on training and food for work is massive with a the total value of projects reaching $460 million. With the generous assistance of the Government of Italy, the Rome agencies are engaged in creative efforts to swap debt for development funding in countries like Bolivia and Egypt. All told, more than 50 WFP Country Offices have invested about $32 million in joint projects with IFAD and FAO to help more than 6 million beneficiaries. This cooperation has been rising steadily in recent years. and we hope to build on it further.

It is hard to over emphasize how important it is to give poor people the funds and the opportunity to participate in local economies. Even the smallest investments can have a tremendous impact as IFAD has shown over and over again with its micro-credit projects, especially those focused on women.

At the same time, funding for infrastructure is critical for small scale farmers. The history and range of cooperation between IFAD and WFP in this area is extraordinary -- irrigation schemes, land rehabilitation, forestry and soil and water conservation to name a few. Our ties are truly global. We are working together in the remote parts of North Korea on crop production systems for cooperatives and half way around the world in Africa on labor saving technologies to help women farmers.

WFP recently invited some experts retired from the World Bank and OECD and I asked them to give me their short list of interventions to help turn around the food situation in Africa. They mentioned three things -- roads, rural markets and schools -- and I was pleased to see they were all areas where IFAD has invested and ones where WFP and IFAD have a long history of working closely together.

In closing, let me say I have never encountered before the suffering and sense of hopelessness I have seen the past months in southern Africa. So many of these people are struggling against overwhelming odds. I particularly remember a bright young girl of 14 in Zambia, a child trying to run a family -- raising food, gathering firewood, preparing meals for her younger siblings.

If we are to do anything to bring hope back into the life of people like this Zambian girl, it will be because we have committed ourselves to the idea that no one should go hungry and to the work of organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development. My tribute goes to you, Lennart Bage, your fine staff, and all who have contributed to IFAD over these past 25 years.