BEIJING - The world's largest humanitarian agency and most populous country have celebrated a 25-year partnership with a landmark agreement to join efforts to combat global hunger.
"Having lifted 300 million of its own people out of poverty in less than a generation - surely one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century - China has now pledged to commit more of its considerable resources to helping us help those in desperate need elsewhere," James Morris, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said in Beijing.
In addition to a promise of increased Chinese funding for WFP operations, both sides are working on an agreement that would make China's expertise and talent available to the agency to strengthen its capacity to respond to sudden food emergencies. Frequently afflicted by natural disasters flooding, drought and earthquakes China has developed exemplary capabilities to manage the consequences.
"We are very grateful for these vital and timely undertakings, and look forward to developing a long-term, mutually rewarding partnership that reflects our shared vision of a world free of hunger," Morris said.
He was speaking at the end of a five-day visit to China, which included meetings with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and a trip to the western province of Gansu, where WFP and the Government are together implementing a range of poverty alleviation projects.
Since 1979, WFP has supported some 30 million Chinese, mostly in remote central and western regions, helping to meet their immediate food needs and facilitating the creation of community-level assets through food-for-work and food-for-training schemes. Such assets include farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems and drinking water facilities.
The agency plans to phase out food assistance to the country next year. China attained national food self-sufficiency in the mid-1990s. By 2000, the average per capita daily calorie intake of its rural population had reached 2,600 kilocalories, exceeding the internationally recommended minimum.
The Chinese economy has expanded by an annual average of more than nine per cent for over a decade, and last year accounted for an estimated 25 per cent of global growth. While not all have benefited equally - the industrialised eastern seaboard has gained more than the predominantly rural interior, and there are marked disparities in living standards between and within regions - the government has made addressing the inequalities a top priority..
"The Chinese authorities know how to solve tough food security problems. They understand human nature, and the power of incentives. By encouraging people to produce more, and to keep, sell or invest more, they are benefiting individuals, households and communities across this vast country. These are invaluable lessons," Morris said.
The Chinese government has been an increasingly strong supporter of WFP's work at home and abroad. This year it has committed US$20 million to support the agency's programme in China, the bulk of it in the form of counterpart food assistance. It has also pledged US$1.25 million for WFP operations elsewhere.
Morris said Prime Minister Wen acknowledged during their meeting that poverty and hunger were root causes of conflict and instability, and stressed that China was strongly committed to advancing the development of poor countries in cooperation with multilateral organisations like WFP.
"There are more than 800 million people around the world suffering from chronic hunger. It claims 25,000 lives every day. This is unacceptable from every point of view - moral, humanitarian, economic and political. Imagine the horror of 60 fully-laden jumbo jets crashing today, with children 70 per cent of the fatalities. That's the scale of the problem we're trying to address. An increasingly wealthy world is well able to deal with it. Yet the battle is being lost," Morris said.
"The Chinese government knows this most compelling of global problems can be solved because it has been addressed so impressively here."
Morris noted that China provides poor countries with a lot of help on a bilateral basis, and said there was a strong case for it to do so multilaterally. WFP focuses on the most food-deficit, lowest-income countries, as well as those suffering conflicts, natural disasters and severe health problems like HIV/AIDS."
"WFP knows how to find the most vulnerable, deliver food to them, and address their nutritional requirements by adding vitamins and minerals. And we are highly accountable to our donors.
We can feed a school child, or an orphan, for as little as 10 US cents a day. And everything about that child's life changes for the better. The investment is small, but the payoff is huge."
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.
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