WFP Executive Director ends Africa tour; urges better security to bolster gains in fighting malnutrition

Published on 29 April 2007

The United Nations World Food Programme has made dramatic progress in reducing malnutrition in Ethiopia, Sudan and Chad but the achievements risk being diminished by constantly shifting security conditions, said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran today.

WFP has made dramatic progress in reducing malnutrition in Ethiopia, Sudan and Chad but the achievements risk being diminished by constantly shifting security conditions, said WFP

Chad is facing the triple challenge of chronic hunger, a surge in internally displaced people and growing numbers of refugees from Darfur
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran

Executive Director Josette Sheeran today.

Sheeran, speaking after she concluded a visit to the three countries, said she is encouraged by the gains she has seen but emphasised that sustained improvement requires long-term investment to steer a country from overwhelming crisis to gradual recovery.

Sheeran's Africa visit, her first field mission since assuming the top job at WFP on April 5, took her to Ethiopia, Sudan and lastly to Chad, where she met yesterday with government and donor country representatives to discuss assistance for some 365,000 refugees and internally displaced.

Discussions

"Chad is facing the triple challenge of chronic hunger, a surge in internally displaced people and growing numbers of refugees from Darfur. We need to raise the resources to respond to all these needs," said Sheeran.

Sheeran held discussions with Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye, the Secretary of State for External Relations, Djidda Moussa Outman, and Agriculture Minister Haroun Kabadi about WFP's assistance to Chad, particularly the country's children.

"We discussed our hope to move beyond the emergency phase here and develop school feeding projects so that children can grow and gain an education and have greater opportunities in life," said Sheeran.

'Genuine progress'

Sheeran said she saw "both good and bad news" during her African tour. "I can see that we are making genuine progress in fighting acute malnutrition rates in the region – in the Darfur provinces of Sudan it is down by 50 percent – but the attacks and carjackings are seriously impeding the brave efforts of our staff," Sheeran said.

"WFP has succeeded in finding innovative ways to get food to the people in Darfur and Chad despite the banditry and violence, but we could do so much more if all the actors worked with us to guarantee humanitarian safe access to the people who need our help."

WFP's current biggest food assistance operation is the long-running emergency in Sudan, followed by the programme of longer-term development activities in Ethiopia. But Sheeran emphasised throughout the tour that WFP's food plays an equally vital role during andafter the emergency.

Transition

"We need to have a well-planned transition for a country once the immediate crisis has passed," said Sheeran. "In southern Sudan, two years after the peace agreement, our government partners are now seeking joint strategies with us for recovery and a gradual return to peacetime conditions."

Sheeran cited WFP's meals-in-school programme for children in crisis settings as a good example of a "humanitarian bridge" from the emergency to a stable life. In Juba, she visited the Kuku A elementary school, where WFP provides a meal a day for almost 900 students. For most of them, it is the only meal they get.

"Combining nutritious food and basic education for children is one of the smartest investments for a community crippled by disaster," said Sheeran. "Children are the future of a community and school feeding is the surest way to prepare them for that future."

Cash-based procurement

Sheeran warned, however, that despite the efforts in southern Sudan, half the territories still suffer emergency levels of malnutrition.

On her tour, Sheeran also spotlighted the role WFP's procurement process can play in assisting poor farmers. WFP, whose cash-based procurement of food commodities has risen dramatically over the last 10 years, can "connect farmers to markets" by helping them meet WFP's rigorous standards for food purchase.

Solving food insecurity

In Ethiopia last week, where Sheeran held roundtable discussions with grain traders, market experts and government officials, she called on all of them to help WFP find "better models for food assistance purchases" that could help poor farmers solve their chronic food insecurity.

"We need to take a more strategic look at our purchases to see that we are doing all we can to have the maximum positive impact on development," she said -- a view enthusiastically welcomed by the governments in all three countries she visited.