WFP chief: conquering hunger critical to future peace, prosperity

Published on 15 March 2007

James T. Morris, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), told a US Senate hearing on food aid Thursday that conquering hunger was critical to achieving peace and prosperity in the future.

James T. Morris, Executive Director of WFP, told a US Senate hearing on food aid Thursday that conquering hunger

In spite of record contributions from our donors – led by the United States - the resources available to fight hunger are simply not keeping pace. We are not winning this war
James T. Morris, Executive Director of WFP

was critical to achieving peace and prosperity in the future.

“Today and every day for the foreseeable future, 18,000 children will die of hunger and hunger-related ailments – one every five seconds,” said Morris.

“The number of hungry people – now estimated at 852 million worldwide – is growing by some 4 million a year. In spite of record contributions from our donors – led by the United States - the resources available to fight hunger are simply not keeping pace. We are not winning this war.”

Untenable situation

“This is not only an affront to conscience in an era of plenty, but an untenable situation we ignore at our own risk,” he added. “We should not accept even one child dying of hunger and malnutrition.”

Morris, who was addressing the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen Herb Kohl (D-WI), steps down in April from his post running the world’s largest humanitarian agency and provider of food aid.

He appeared on a panel alongside two former refugees, Daniel Kuot, of Sudan, and Abass Mohammed, of Somalia, who testified about their experiences in refugee camps and the crucial supporting role of food aid there.

Unprecedented challenge

Morris described his five-year tenure as one of unprecedented challenge for WFP, citing huge disasters that ranged from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to the explosion of violence in Darfur.

He also singled out the devastating impact of climate change and HIV/AIDS on food security, and the fact that both commodity and transport costs had risen sharply over that same period.

Hunger not only kills, he said, but saps the vitality and productivity of individuals – especially when children are seriously malnourished in their first years of life; this can not only impair mental and physical development of those children, but cause long-term negative impact on their countries.

Breaking the hunger cycle

Morris cited new studies from seven Latin American and Caribbean countries that showed combined economic losses of US$6.6 billion in a single year (2004) – about six percent of GDP for those countries.

On the other hand, Morris said, investing in good nutrition for the youngest children and their mothers would break the cycle of “inherited hunger” that handicaps economic development in poor countries.

“This is the single best investment you can make in a better future for the poorest countries, indeed for all of us,” Morris said.

Potential

He said the stories of ex-refugees Mohamed – now at Princeton University on full scholarship – and Kuot, a former Sudanese “Lost Boy” now working his way through Truman College in Chicago – were vivid examples of how proper food and nutrition could enable all children reach their potential.

“This is eloquent testimony to the fact that a well-timed intervention of food aid can not only rescue a life, but propel it in a positive new direction,” he said.

“Imagine what the world could be like if we could give every child this chance.”

Wheat not weapons

Morris said the United States, the single-largest donor to WFP, could lead the world in making that extra investment, which he said could help reverse the negative global trends fuelling the continued rise in the numbers of hungry poor.

“President Eisenhower once said you can change the world with wheat, and not weapons. I believe that’s true,” he said.

“Eisenhower launched America’s Food for Peace programme, which has grown into the greatest humanitarian instrument the world has ever known – saving millions of lives.”

Invaluable ally

He praised the US government as “an invaluable ally in the war on hunger” in countries ranging from Sudan to Somalia, from Afghanistan to Ethiopia.

He noted that a US contribution of US$71 million for this March alone capped a record US$1.51 billion to Sudan emergency food operations over the past five years.

“We need only look at Darfur,” Morris said. “Without US support, it is impossible to imagine how we would have managed to feed the desperately hungry in one of the world’s toughest operating environments.”