WFP Director Morris meets Mexico President Fox: urges fight against hemispheric hunger

Published on 10 August 2004

During a meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, WFP\'s Executive Director, James T. Morris, said Mexico\'s leadership is crucial in helping to solve the pressing social problems in Latin America and the world.


MERIDA_During a meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program, James T. Morris, today Mexico's leadership is crucial in helping to solve the pressing social problems in Latin America and the world.

"We need to advance the humanitarian agenda, to bring greater focus on overcoming hunger, poverty and improving education and health for children," Morris said after meeting with President Fox. "The voice of Mexico is essential in focusing the region and the world on these issues."

Citing Mexico's successful "Oportunidades" program as an effective mechanism to fight and reduce hunger and poverty, Morris called for it to be replicated in underdeveloped countries in Latin America and elsewhere. He also called for the establishment of a strategic relationship between Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina to deal with the region's ongoing economic challenges.

President Fox and Morris held their bilateral meeting on the fringes of the 15th Annual Conference of the Consejo Empresario de America Latina (CEAL) at which both men were invited to speak. During a speech to the group, Morris also called for greater involvement by the Latin American business community in addressing hunger in the region.

He noted that while Latin America was on track to meeting its goal to cut in half the number of people suffering from extreme hunger, it was still lagging in poverty eradication. He also said that the statistics on hunger hid a troubling reality.

Morris cited a study by UNICEF showing that in Latin America 16 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunting. In addition, eight per cent are underweight and two per cent suffer from wasting adding that "this is still far too high".

"Worse yet, in some countries like Guatemala, 46 per cent of the children are chronically malnourished, and in some very poor areas up to two thirds of the children lack sufficient food. Things are not much better in Honduras where 39 per cent of children are malnourished, in Bolivia 26 per cent and in Nicaragua 25 per cent," Morris told the audience of business leaders.

"The loss of talent caused by hunger and malnutrition is probably the biggest long-term threat to economic and social development. How many scientists, engineers, Nobel Prize winners, businessmen, sportsmen and political thinkers have been lost because of hunger?

"Raising healthy, well-nourished and educated children is the most important investment the world or a country can make in its future. Every single child deserves the same opportunity."

Morris noted WFP last year assisted 4.3 million people in Latin America. Of these almost half—1.9 million were schoolchildren. However, he said it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund these activities as major government donors saw Latin America as more dynamic than the norm and were shifting economic aid to regions deemed as having greater needs.

"The Latin American business sector has a vested interested in ensuring continued economic development and the enfranchising of the region's hungry poor," Morris said. "It's not only a sensible thing to do, it's the right thing to do. The business community has all of the strength, capacity, and resources to substantially reduce or eliminate malnutrition and hunger among the region's children."

During his meeting with President Fox, Morris indicated WFP is eager to pursue a partnership with the Mexican business community. He said such a partnership would allow the private sector to fulfill its commitment to social responsibility and at the same time eradicate hunger in the region.

Morris also noted that Mexico is playing a key political, diplomatic and economic role in the hemisphere. He pointed to Mexico's free trade agreement with Central American countries and its adherence to MERCOSUR as an "observer" as an indication of the country's important profile in the region.

Morris proposed that the Oportunidades program be replicated across Latin America using a South-South approach and that WFP could act as facilitator. He recalled that WFP and SEDESOL officials had jointly attended a workshop in April that allowed them to explore common areas of future technical collaboration.

He said the April meeting had also allowed WFP to learn more about Oportunidades and other social programs and SEDESOL officials had learned about WFP's 40-years work in fighting hunger in the region,. WFP ended operations in Mexico in 1998, after funding $150 million in programs focusing on education and health of indigenous communities as well as assistance for Guatemalan refugees.

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.

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