PANAMA CITY –Latin America and the Caribbean countries have made significant progress in tackling hunger and malnutrition, reducing the number of hungry by 16 million over a decade, but much work still remains to be done, said the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin.
“We truly believe that Latin America and the Caribbean can become a hunger-free region,” said Cousin. “Initiatives such as Fome Zero in Brazil and the recently-launched National Crusade against Hunger in Mexico can lead the way,” she said, during a two-day visit to Panama.
Despite significant gains on the hunger front, almost seven million preschool children remain chronically undernourished, many of them in indigenous and afro-descendent communities.
“WFP believes that hunger is solvable,” said Cousin. “This year WFP plans to directly assist more than eight million people in the region, most of them affected by under-development, deep inequalities and recurrent natural disasters. We also work with governments to develop sustainable plans to fight hunger” she added.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, WFP supports national efforts to improve food and nutrition security and reduce the impact of emerging crises, natural disasters and climate change among vulnerable populations.
In Haiti, for instance, WFP is working in coordination with the Government to reach some 1.5 million people in 2013, many of whom were severely affected by natural disasters in 2012.
Simultaneously, WFP also helps governments to strengthen their capacities to integrate food and nutrition security in their national strategies, in the implementation of high quality school feeding programmes (which are a critical social protection network in times of crisis), emergency preparedness and response, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, and the use of WFP’s purchasing power to help small holder farmers.
For instance, in Central America, WFP and other partners are implementing the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, which is benefitting more than 33,000 smallholder farmers of whom 30 percent are women. The aim of the project is to use WFP’s purchasing power to link small holder farmers to local markets.
Cousin said the reinforcement of social protection programmes with new activities such as cash transfers and food vouchers could also help the most vulnerable. “These social safety nets can improve nutrition for young children – an investment that will pay off with better educated and healthier adults. Effective social protection programmes coupled with inclusive economic growth can help eliminate hunger and malnutrition” she said.
During her brief visit to Panama, Cousin met high ranking officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took part in the strategic discussion of the Annual WFP Regional Meeting, met colleagues from other UN agencies and visited the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD), a strategically located hub where relief items are stored so that when emergencies strike, they can be delivered swiftly to affected areas.
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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.