Safe, Reliable Access To Food Essential In Pandemic

Copyright: WFP/Marcelo Spina

When world leaders gathered six times over the past two years to discuss how to grapple with pandemic disease – like the one we may be facing now – the same issue was raised by every single delegation: safe and reliable access to food.

ROME -- As leaders gathered this morning in WFP’s headquarters to discuss how best to ensure access to food for the millions of hungry relying on us for their survival, and how best to ensure the safety of our 10,000 employees working 91 countries, it becomes clear: We are better placed to safeguard staff with Tamiflu and personal protection equipment -- which will allow them to continue feeding the hungry --  than we are to assure the free flow of food across borders during a time of heightened fear.

Food travels

This matters.  Because on a global scale, food travels an average of 1,000 miles to reach the dinner table (this is what President Clinton told the Global Compact at the UN last year).  In WFP’s world, those distances may be even longer as we procure food from 69 different developing and developed nations.  

If a pandemic develops and works its way around the world, one of the challenges all of us will face is how to maximize access to food as we contend with possible border closures and the inevitable transportation challenges.

Close to hungry

This possible pandemic intensifies the pressure we already feel on how to position food as close to the hungry as possible.  It will undoubtedly increase pressure on governments to think through global grain reserves and emergency funds for local food procurement in the case of an economic shutdown.

If the flu germ grows less virulent and the world is blessedly spared a pandemic, the challenge will be to continue pressing forward with critical pandemic contingency planning – even without the whip of swine flu behind us.