Opening Remarks by the Executive Director for the Annual Session of the Executive Board, 2015

Delivered on: 25 May 2015


Mr President,


Distinguished Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my pleasure to join the President in welcoming all of the new members to the WFP Board. On behalf of the entire WFP family, I extend our thanks to those now leaving the Board, who served us over this last year.

Please join me in offering a warm welcome, and benvenuti to our very special guest, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Syria Crisis, Mr Staffan de Mistura.  Staffan is no stranger to WFP. We consider him still very much part of the WFP family. Admittedly now in his role, as special envoy, we must share him with the world because he serves as a champion and an ally for all those humanitarians serving in and around Syria. We look forward to hearing from Staffan later in this session.

Also this morning, we are pleased to recognize two other very special guests: from Ethiopia, His Excellency State Minister Ato Mitiku Kassa and from the United States of America, Her Excellency Assistant Secretary Bathsheba Crocker.

We also welcome all those delegations who have travelled from capitals to join us.

We acknowledge the importance that your representation and your presence from your capital gives to this session.


Ladies and Gentlemen.  Today, as we begin this Annual Board meeting, the current global food supply outlook remains favorable. Accumulated food stocks and a strong US dollar keep international food prices under downward pressure. The world’s food import bill is forecast to reach a five-year low in 2015. Looking at global trends, early prospects for cereal supplies in 2015 through 2016 are mostly promising.

But despite mostly favourable global food supply prospects and price trends, in too many countries in our world, conflict, climate change and poverty make food either unavailable or inaccessible to the most vulnerable people, particularly women, children, the infirm and the elderly.

For example, in Yemen conflict limits humanitarian access to families where 50 percent of the children even before this latest crisis, suffered from stunting.

In Guatemala, the continuing drought results in ever-increasing food inflation making nutritious food ever more unaffordable for the poor and indigenous population.

And in Somalia, for those trapped by the twin threat of drought and conflict, the probability of yet another crisis-level hunger season looms large.

Yes, although we have made significant progress reducing food insecurity and malnutrition, in 2015 we must acknowledge that for the poor and vulnerable, hunger as well as malnutrition remain as persistent as ever.

In 2015, malnutrition affects every country in our world. We accept this challenge as one not just affecting the least developed nations. In far too many countries malnutrition results in a diversity of health issues which as a consequence creates individual quality-of-life challenges as well as increasingly detrimental impact on the world’s gross domestic product.

Stunting, caused by malnutrition, alone robs one in four of the next generation of their physical, social and economic potential. Last year the global nutrition report noted that malnutrition affects two billion people around the world and costs the global community approximately USD 3.5 trillion per year in lost productivity.  Again affecting particularly poor and vulnerable women, men and children living in all 193 countries that were surveyed for the report.

In 2015, the realities of malnutrition affect not just them but all of us. WFP, together with our partners including the governments, the NGOs, the private sector and other sister United Nations agencies are working to eliminate stunting and chronic malnutrition.

In 2015, while WFP works to address the protracted crisis of hunger and malnutrition, helping individuals, households, communities and nations become ever more resilient, WFP also works to eliminate stunting and chronic malnutrition as stated. WFP also assists an increasing number of governments and communities with capacity-building support for school feeding, social safety-net development and disaster risk preparation.

Yes, in 2015, more governments invest in WFP, seeking our assistance to help them provide the programmes and services that will ensure no child goes hungry in their own countries.

And yes and of course in 2015, WFP responds when required, as required, to the emergency life-saving needs of those affected by crises, shocks, conflicts and disasters. The truth is whether hunger hotspots result from war, extreme weather events or disease, we have never before seen crises at the scale, the frequency, the intensity and complexity we experience today, requiring ever more from the WFP family.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the list of hunger hotspots is long and growing.

In Nepal, the sheer destruction of the earthquake is staggering. Yet it has once again brought home the value of investment in national and corporate preparedness. The earthquake struck just six weeks after our DFID funded humanitarian staging area was opened in Kathmandu. When I visited Nepal shortly after the earthquake I witnessed first hand the importance of this facility as the entire humanitarian community used it to store and move commodities that would otherwise have been sitting on a then already congested runway. We – and more importantly – the Nepalese earthquake victims also witnessed the value of WFP’s rapid approval and advance financing mechanisms, because without these mechanisms, we would not have been able to distribute critical life-saving assistance to over 1.1 million people within just three weeks. Reaching everyone in need also requires humanitarian responders to overcome significant geography challenges. The majesty of the country of Nepal, with eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks, creates the humanitarian access difficulties now dogging the responders working to beat the complicating approach of this year’s monsoon season.

To overcome the topography challenges, WFP is expanding our fleet of helicopters. We are also working to enlist the support of some 20,000-plus sherpas and trekkers to help overcome this logistics conundrum into the hard to reach areas.

And with the objective of meeting the needs of those we serve and not just our agency mandates, WFP as logistics cluster lead in partnership with MFS, UNICEF and others dispatches packages containing not just food, but shelter kits and water purification tablets.

So when help does arrive into these remote areas we are meeting more if not all of the needs of those impacted by the earthquake. The joint delivery of service is not just more efficient and effective, it also gives true meaning to the term “delivering as one.”

Although advance financing facilitated rapid action, our operations in Nepal remain critically underfunded. The EMOP is resourced at just 7 percent limiting our ability to deliver food assistance. The logistics special operations – that effective and efficient tool I just spoke about – is resourced at just under 20 percent. We thank those donors who have already contributed, yet these Nepalese victims need much more global solidarity and support.

Regional Director David Kaatrud will provide a detailed account on this operation to the Board later this week.

Moving across the globe to Yemen. Yemen continues to slide into a deep humanitarian catastrophe. Intense fighting and airstrikes have displaced more than half a million people within the country.

Ongoing strict blockades, affecting regular trade, will worsen the hunger and malnutrition situation across the country. Since the crisis began, food prices have increased significantly. The cost of wheat flour has risen by more than 50 percent. An additional 1.4 million people have become food-insecure, with 12 million people now affected.

However, since the coalition bombing began and the conflict on the ground continues to grow from both sides, through the valiant efforts primarily of WFP’s national staff as of today we have reached over 1 million people.

Concentrated efforts are required to save lives. The five-day humanitarian pause provided some relief but more humanitarian space is essential. We are prioritizing life-saving interventions because the ongoing conflict limits the implementation of other planned programmes, and we are scaling up our emergency distribution efforts to initially reach 2.5 million people with critical food and nutrition assistance, while planning for a much wider coverage.

The right plans are now in place, the right people are now deployed and we even have the financial resources committed to fund our efforts – thank you Saudi Arabia. Yet without humanitarian space babies will go hungry. Only with your help and the support of your capitals will we avoid Yemen evolving into an even greater humanitarian crisis.

Yemen, is only the newest challenge in a region which now commands the resources and attention not just of WFP but the entire humanitarian community.

In Iraq, the upsurge of violence has now forced massive displacement of 2.8 million people. The public distribution system, a mainstay for poor Iraqis, is seriously disrupted.

Yet despite ongoing requests to the Government, WFP still lacks access to the commodities within the PDS, we ask you as our Board to help us encourage the Government to provide WFP with access, because with these commodities, as our financial resources diminish, WFP can and will continue providing the food otherwise unavailable to those displaced by the ongoing crisis.

We need the PDS commodities, because as we meet today, humanitarian needs far surpass available resources. Lack of funding forces us to reduce our food rations while reaching approximately 1.5 million of the most vulnerable people, and we have been warned by OCHA and others in the United Nations political department that the continuing conflict could displace a further 2.7 million people this year.

Moving across this troubled region to Syria, the ever-changing dynamic of the conflict continues to devastate lives and fuel massive levels of displacement. Idleb’s recent capture alone forced more than 100,000 people to flee. With over 1,200 armed groups engaged in fighting across the country, humanitarian access remains an ongoing critical operational challenge.

Thankfully, solid mechanisms for cross-border and cross-line deliveries enabled us to reach almost 800,000 people in hard-to-reach areas last month alone. To gain full understanding of the current food security situation, our country office together with FAO has initiated a comprehensive food security assessment.

Initial findings suggest that the 2015 harvest, when complete, will exceed each of the last two year’s conflict- and drought-affected harvests; that is the good news. The bad news is that of the 400,000 metric tons already harvested in Al Hasakah there are no adequate milling facilities in the Al Hasakah region; the milling facilities are now primarily in Homs and Damascus.  In fact the population most in need of access to this now available Syrian food are in Homs and Damascus.

Without a humanitarian pause providing unhindered transport of Syrian food, opening up corridors for this transport, by both sides, people will still go hungry despite a good harvest. Prices for food will remain high while donor contributions decrease, keeping available food inaccessible and giving WFP and other humanitarians ever-shrinking ability to assist. No the final numbers are not in from the Crop and Food Assessment but we know enough to ask for your help now.

Across the region those affected by the Syrian crisis: our teams witness the growing vulnerability of Syrian refugees and greater tensions within the host community.

Because of the decline in financial contributions, we continue efforts to target only the most vulnerable. Because of the decline in financial contributions, we reduced the average value of food vouchers by 30 percent, but those reductions were not enough. Shrinking resources have forced us to cut assistance even for refugees considered extremely vulnerable. These activities have negative consequences not just for the refugees but also for the host countries.

Our monitoring indicates the impacts for many families is punishing, with many now forced to implement too often seen negative coping strategies including pulling children out of school. And in host communities, where refugees compete with other neighbours for food, housing and jobs, tensions have significantly increased. Despite the generosity of the international community, our operations in Syria now face a shortfall of USD 396 million until the end of this year, and our regional Syrian refugee operations face a shortfall of USD 436 million for this same period.

Regional Director, Muhannad Hadi, will provide additional details on these operations to the Board later this week.

Moving to Somalia, where conflict and insecurity threaten the small gains made since last year. In many areas, cereal prices have reached levels not seen since the famine in 2011; access remains restricted. We remember Al Shabaab’s attack on UNICEF which claimed six innocent lives. It is a stark reminder of the risk humanitarians must take in Somalia. Despite these challenges, WFP stays and WFP delivers, and the needs are increasing. Close to 1 million Somalis require critical life saving assistance, including 200,000 acutely malnourished children. Two million more struggle to meet their food needs.

Eastwards to South Sudan, another cruel example of where failure to achieve a political solution entrenches hunger. I must warn this Board, the situation in South Sudan is worsening day by day. Grave atrocities stalk citizens. The United Nations mission has credible reports of ordinary people being directly targeted, kidnapped and killed.

In Unity State, many towns and villages have been burned to the ground; boys as young as ten have been abducted to fight; girls and women are raped, and many thousands are forced to seek refuge elsewhere. Just like the women Ambassador Lane and I met on a recent visit to South Sudan, women who had walked for weeks to get to safety and to find food.

Renewed hostilities, increased insecurity and intensifying harassment of humanitarians result in very high operational risks. The passage of a restrictive new bill on NGO operations throws up new barriers for the entire humanitarian community.

In opposition-controlled areas, staff are harassed and interrogated. In addition to our staff member kidnapped last year where we now have credible information to believe and presume he has been killed, unfortunately two additional WFP staff and a contracted driver went missing during clashes near Fashoda. Their whereabouts remain unknown and sadly while still unconfirmed by Government, WFP has received information which makes us fear the worst.

Fear, conflict-limiting access and restrictive operational requirements now impede critical life-saving work, at a time of sharp deterioration in both food security and nutrition. While hunger and malnutrition rates now – again – reach frightening levels even in states unaffected by the conflict. Global acute malnutrition rates for children now reach 20 percent in the three conflict states, but also in Lakes State, where there has not been any fighting.

Across South Sudan, 40 percent of the population are now in a state of acute food insecurity. We will keep utilizing every tool available as we work to provide the food assistance that will prevent a hunger catastrophe in South Sudan, but we simply have not received the financial resources required to meet all of the needs. We need your support, because we – all of us – must do more.

Moving to Burundi, where political crisis now triggers a humanitarian crisis. Across the country, tens of thousands of people fled the political violence and targeted attacks. More than 25,000 refugees have been registered from Burundi in Rwanda. Screening rates there show very worrying levels of global acute malnutrition for children, levels at 25 percent. Over 60,000 people fled to Tanzania, and 9,000 crossed into DRC. In response, WFP activated the first phase of the election contingency plan. The Inter-Agency Regional Refugee Response Plan for DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania is now finalized.

Regional Directors Valerie Guarneri and Chris Nikoi will provide detailed accounts to the Board of this work later this week.

Finally some good news. In West Africa, Liberia has reached zero Ebola cases demonstrating how sustained effort and determination together are required to get from a few Ebola cases to zero Ebola cases. Yet, the situation remains ever more complex. Getting to zero in all countries requires relentless investment.

In Guinea the emergence of new cases continues. To break the transmission the Government is organizing sensitization campaigns in hotspots across the country. One such campaign was recently launched where WFP is working to meet the food needs of 35,000 people.

And as UNMEER phases out of the region, again in our role as the humanitarian community logistics lead, WFP will assume the management of some UNMEER air assets and ICT services. This will expand our provision of common services across the Ebola-affected region.

Regional Director Denise Brown will provide a detailed account to the Board in her session later this week.

Let us move across the globe to a slow onset emerging food crisis in Central America. Drought continues to severely affect over two million people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The predicted drought has indeed affected harvests, severely limiting access to food by each of these countries’ poor and vulnerable populations.

Families have begun the traditional negative coping strategies of selling livelihood assets and migration to urban areas seeking employment. FEWS NET supports the urgent need for food assistance required to avoid hunger and increased malnutrition rates across these vulnerable populations.

Regional Director Miguel Barreto will provide further information later in the week.


This recitation that I have just given you of the hunger hot spots around the globe reminds us all that the hungry poor deserve our attention. Since becoming Pope, Francis has warned without a solution to the problems of the poor, we cannot resolve the problems of the world.

This year, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations founded on a global commitment of peace and prosperity, in 2015 we must reach higher. The time has come for reset, to redefine global development goals and to set a course for achieving a genuine opportunity of universal peace and prosperity. Of course that acknowledges the capacity of most people to transform their situation if given equitable access to the right resources and the right opportunities.

Going forward we must all recognize the need for a paradigm shift, for universal commitments to end hunger and to end poverty, a compact that goes beyond the United Nations, a compact that facilitates assertive and inclusive national engagement by governments, civil societies and the private sector.

In this year of opportunity, by seizing the moment and taking bold action we can figuratively push the reset button, moving us all towards achieving universal peace and prosperity.

Already in Sendai with the agreement of the Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, important steps were taken acknowledging the increasing risk that higher temperature, drought and erratic rainfalls pose to food systems. We commend Member States for recognizing that eliminating food security and undernutrition is necessary to reduce risk and to build resilience.

As we move towards the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, we recognize the importance of this conference’s outcomes.

The outcomes from this conference will test the world’s commitment for transformation. Without financial guarantees for investments, pledges, new resources including country-level revenue as well as ODA, we will not achieve our shared ambitious global agenda.

The draft outcome document is promising. The draft outcome document recognizes the need to scale up efforts to end hunger. It advances dialogue on the necessity for greater coherence between development and humanitarian efforts. The document accepts the fact that to achieve the new ambitious sustainable development agenda, we must engage in new partnerships where coherence is the norm. And the document recognizes we must mobilize new diverse financial revenue streams that will generate the required investments.

While the document speaks to each of these areas we ask representatives here at this Board meeting, working with your capitals, to appeal for more: vital investment and national safety nets acknowledging their already proven capacity to address hunger in the short and the long term; new multilateral and multi-year financing to strengthen resilience-building, preparedness and recovery efforts; for more new methods which fully engage private sector financing, unlocking and mobilizing the potential of trillions of dollars of private funds; for risk framework that allows full engagements of households and communities living in fragile areas; and for high level global participation in the conference because only the leaders of the world can provide the credibility required to make the outcome document truly legitimate.

During this summit under the leadership of the Ethiopian Government, WFP, together with the other RBAs will convene a side event encouraging the participating governments’ support for increased financing in rural agriculture particularly for smallholder farmers.

Success in Addis will demonstrate the global unity of purpose required for success in New York at the Summit on Sustainable Development Goals. WFP will continue supporting Member States in the preparation progress including with the identification of robust universal indicators that will measure progress towards the proposed Sustainable Development Goal 2 of eliminating hunger and chronic malnutrition. WFP and the Rome Based Agencies (RBAs) are planning a follow-on to the very successful side event hosted during last year’s UNGA during the Summit on the opportunity to achieve zero hunger.

And like Member States, we recognize the importance of taking the general public on this journey with us through this global reset year.

At Milan’s EXPO pavilion Zero we will help tell the stories of the diverse people whose efforts are central to achieving zero hunger. The Milan EXPO provides an ideal platform during this global reset year for generating the global public will and citizen participation in the movement to end hunger, increase agricultural production and eliminate malnutrition. WFP together with many of your countries will seek to maximize the Milan EXPO opportunity both together with the Rome-based agencies, other sister agencies as well as in stand-alone WFP events between now and the end of October.

In Paris, at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, WFP is working with the RBAs to ensure the conference document recognizes the critical issue of how climate change impacts food security and food systems and how importantly climate change already negatively affects the world’s most vulnerable people.

And finally, at the World Humanitarian Summit we call on Member States to support an outcome that strengthens global humanitarian response at every level. This past week in Nairobi I participated in a robust dialogue among the IASC humanitarian principles led by the incoming ERC Stephen O’Brien where we challenged the organizers to go beyond the conversation about global architectures. We agreed during this particular period of ambitious global goal-setting as principals we should support an ambitious outcome beyond architecture addressing more effective, innovative and efficient response.

The principals noted the recent announcement of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, we agreed to work together towards a shared IASC principles statement on the recommendations for the panel. I volunteered to serve as the IASC champion for humanitarian financing. As a fully voluntarily funded agency working every day to keep the poor and vulnerable beneficiary at the centre of everything we do, I personally and WFP as an institution will continue playing a leading role in the World Humanitarian Summit preparation activities.


As you can see, in this year of challenges, we at WFP will perform the work required to meet the needs of those we now serve while we participate and lead as appropriate or required in the global game-changing dialogues potentially affecting how we serve in the future.

We will perform this requisite external work while we continue the internal work required to deliver and ensure a Fit for Purpose WFP. This includes our ongoing work to strengthen the WFP programmes and policies. Today, by wearing orange management and the Board together highlight our shared commitment and our duty to eradicating violence against women and girls.

WFP management and this Board share more than a common commitment to wearing orange. The gender policy, which you will hopefully approve later in this meeting, represents our shared commitment to performing the work required to ensure equal access to food and nutrition assistance by all those we serve. This policy underlines our shared recognition that women’s empowerment is the first step towards achieving a world with zero hunger.

Sonsoles Ruedas will present the policy for this Board’s approval. Amir Abdulla has served as the leadership team focal point for gender. Unfortunately, while he is fine after recent surgery, he was unable to travel to the Board meeting so I look forward to participating in this discussion and responding to any remaining questions or concerns.

Later in the Board meeting management will present the policy on building resilience for food security and nutrition which represents another crucial step aligning this organization behind zero hunger. The WFP resilience policy will promote coherence aligning WFP’s programmes and promoting a fundamental shift in how we collaboratively design and collectively implement our programmes.

The final policy I would like to highlight is the South–South and triangular cooperation. This policy does more than recognize South–South cooperation as an already valuable component of our work from school feeding to school technology. We are pleased to note for the Board not only the very positive ongoing conversations with several Member States seeking WFP support for South–South activities but also Member State commitments to financially invest in WFP activities to perform this work.

Ladies and Gentlemen, later this week the Board will also consider a number of important evaluations including WFP’s response to the Syria crisis. Recommendations from this evaluation are ongoing and we have learned much from this evaluation and we are working to implement the learnings and the wider responses to ongoing and future complex emergencies.


Excellencies, to the final part of my presentation. I first sat in this chair during the 2012 Annual Board meeting when management announced that this Board supported our journey towards developing a more Fit for Purpose WFP, a WFP with the people, partnerships and policies as well as the financial framework to meet the food assistance and nutrition needs of those we serve.

The Fit for Purpose transformation launched with the Board has been behind many new initiatives reshaping WFP into an organization capable of playing its role towards achieving zero hunger. Fit for Purpose has resulted in catalytic investments enabling us to reinforce our core competencies. In fact with the support of the Board to date, much has been achieved. By every measure we are fitter and more efficient than we were when we began this journey.

It is time now to bring Fit for Purpose as an initiative to a close at the end of 2016. Management will recognize what has been achieved by launching in November 2015 a third-party internal review of the effectiveness of our Fit for Purpose related efforts, activities and investments. The review work will begin in early 2016.

Looking forward between now and the end of 2016 and accepting our Fit for Purpose journey is not yet complete, we will prioritize six focus areas: first a completion of the organization-wide roll-out of our cash-based intervention tool, the corporate cash and voucher platform; second the completion of our monitoring and evaluation platform, which will ensure that we will provide every country programme with the capacity to design and implement outcome- not just output driven programmes; third the establishment of a knowledge management system, systematically sharing expertise across the organization with a goal of creating inter-operability between sister agencies and partners; fourth equipping our workforce with more of the necessary skills needed for emergency and systemic response, a crucial step in realizing the people strategy; fifth the integration of additional measurable flexibility and accountability into our mainstream financial architecture; sixth and finally, targeted pilot investments in focused countries to measurably improve WFP’s human programme and technical ability to support national governments.

As stated we will complete this work throughout but no later than the end of 2016. Fit for Purpose was and continues to serve as a WFP organizational strengthening initiative. Yet there are some savings yes; yes there are some savings as a result of the more effective programmes and streamlining of some processes. These savings were ancillary to the primary purpose of the Fit for Purpose objectives.

We recognize that what is required for us to complete, maintain and strengthen WFP’s capacity will necessitate additional ongoing investments. In order to secure resources for our ongoing investments we must become ever more efficient and effective while we drive savings that provide additional dollars.

As I promised to this Board in 2014, we are pursuing cost savings through the cost excellence initiative.

In addition to a number of cost reduction measures that management has identified, after careful consideration of the findings generated by the cost excellence advisory group and with this Board’s support, management will pursue a service centre which will support the operation of more efficient and re engineered functions across selected divisions.

We will present a service centre plan to this Board in the context of the Management Plan discussions seeking your views, inputs and approval.

This afternoon the APR report will be presented. This is the first time the report is presented against the 2014–2017 Strategic Plan. The APR documents the record level of voluntary contributions. The investments also support WFP’s ability to increase our contribution to the broader humanitarian system. Later in this session we will also present the new enterprise risk management policy. In addition, we will present the Board with three proposals for strategically investing resources for the PSA Equalization Account.

Mindful of the duty of care to all staff we will also launch the Wellness Fund which you will hear more about later in the meeting.


Let me conclude.

Excellencies, Martin Luther King once said:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Our work in this Board room may sometimes feel far from the frontlines of hunger and poverty but our work is not.

Our work is very important to the work that is performed on the frontline.

Our work here matters.

Our work gives voice to the hungry and malnourished: millions of women, men and children whose present and future depends on us.

Let us recognize that although we have come far, we have so much further to go.

Yes, we have made progress but because people still go hungry and children continue to grow up stunted, we all agree more work is required. We will know it is enough when children grow to their full potential and we will know our work is enough when every hungry person can access nutritious food.

Let us build the solidarity as the Board and management necessary to reset our global goals with WFP’s role articulated, understood and fully funded.

For those hungry poor we represent, let us speak up and let us speak out.

Let our collective efforts and shared vision ensure a hunger free and prosperous and peaceful world for all.

Thank you very much.