Opening Remarks by Executive Director Ertharin Cousin on the Occasion of the Second Regular Session, 2015

Delivered on: 09 November 2015


Thank you, Mr. President.

Excellencies, I welcome you to this session, especially those of you who travelled here from your capitals for our meeting.

I would also like to welcome our guest, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, from the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  From the European Commission, Ms. Monique Paria, Director-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection.  From Mauritania, His Excellency Mohamed Rare, Commissioner for Food Security.  And from Sri Lanka, Mr. Mohamed Rafeek Mohamed Ismail, Secretary of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen, just two months ago the entire global community, by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, unanimously committed to perform the work required to create a world where everyone, everywhere shares the common goal of a more prosperous and peaceful life for all.

Recognizing the reality that conflict, displacement, natural disasters, environmental degradation, and even pandemics, not only arrest global development, peace and prosperity, they reverse global peace and prosperity.

By agreeing to Agenda 2030, world leaders committed to sweeping universal global action, reaffirming the United Nation’s founding aim that “we the peoples” must free the world from fear and want.

In making this commitment, leaders recognized that we must leave no one behind, we must reach the furthest behind first, prioritizing the world’s most marginal people, in the world’s most marginal and difficult places.  Speaking the language of WFP, it means targeting the world’s vulnerable hungry poor people.

Yes, this is an ambitious agenda. Yes, the bar has been set high. And yes—crucially—with the inclusion of Goal 2 Zero Hunger, for the first time the world united to collectively confirm not only is the task of ending hunger achievable, it is within our reach. And we can do it in just 15 years.

Of course, the true test of this agenda lies in the implementation.

Going forward, Agenda 2030 and the people-centered reform efforts which follow, provide us all with a mandate, to reframe our programmes, develop new partnerships, and work in truly transformative ways, addressing hunger’s multi-dimensional causes and consequences.

Stephen, allow me to again recognize the importance of your commitment and presence here today.  Because humanitarian actors, all of us together, the UN, international NGOs, local community-based organizations, and the governments where we serve—we must all work together as partners, ever-more efficiently, effectively and collectively planning, resourcing, and delivering humanitarian assistance.  For us here at WFP, this represents a critical pathway way to realizing Agenda 2030, particularly when it comes to reaching those furthest behind.

WFP is very committed to supporting positive outcomes from the World Humanitarian Summit. Outcomes which will ensure we ever-better meet the needs of the vulnerable, hungry poor.  Outcomes which also assist in our ability to overcome the humanitarian and development divide.  Outcomes which will make us as humanitarian actors more efficient and cohesive.  Outcomes which help us save lives but also support our ability to assist communities and those we serve build more resilient lives and livelihoods.  And next year’s Istanbul summit will hopefully provide those serving in the field with the additional access, resources and support to meet the ever-growing global humanitarian needs that people—victims living lives-in-crisis—both deserve and need.

To put the people we serve first, the summit must deliver several key outcomes.

First, the summit must recognize different crisis require different responses.  No single crisis is the same.  The reality is the acute support people affected by Typhoon Haiyan require, differs significantly from the protracted support people now require in Syria, or places like Dadaab refugee camp.

Second, the summit must raise the profile and universal commitment of putting girls and women first once-and-for-all, affirming gender as a central tenet of our work. Wherever we work, women and girls are our major stakeholder.

Third, the summit must help us put people first, providing the pathway to truly invest-in and strengthen local structures, including civil society organizations on the very frontline of our work.

Ultimately, we believe the summit must protect principled humanitarian action, while ensuring our work is firmly anchored in the reality of crisis facing people today, including harnessing and applying innovation to support people’s own resilience-building.

Stephen, we look forward to hearing more about your tremendous leadership, and how we at WFP can continue to contribute later this morning’s session.

Ladies and gentlemen, next month’s COP 21 is another essential step in this year’s global reset.  Because as this Executive Board fully appreciates, a world free of hunger requires climate resilience.  Climate change disproportionately impacts food-insecure people 80 percent of whom live in environments prone to disaster and degradation.

I am pleased to note, heading into the discussions, we in WFP, reduced our emissions and have now achieved Climate Neutrality status in our worldwide operations.
WFP is encouraged by the draft text of COP 21, but just like Sendai, we believe an ambitious climate deal in Paris, recognizing the need to prioritize those furthest behind first is a prerequisite for Zero Hunger.

* * *

Excellencies, when it comes to hunger, conflict, climate-change and natural disaster, continue to drive crisis across the globe.

El Nino remains a major concern.  This year’s phenomenon is predicted to be the strongest on record.  Following two consecutive poor growing seasons, FAO expects maize production in Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua to fall by up to 20 percent.

In East Africa, Ethiopia also faces two poor seasons, particularly impacting Afar pastoral areas now anticipating an impact of over eight million people.

Rain-fed dependent agriculture in South Sudan and Sudan is also at risk.Heavy rain and flooding threaten Central and Southern Somalia, damaging crops, livestock and already limited infrastructure.

In Southern Africa, farmers also likely face another poor season, with vulnerable smallholders at risk of sharply reduced harvests, particularly in Zimbabwe and Malawi.  While we must also be prepared for cyclones and floods, particularly in Madagascar and Mozambique.

As difficult as El Nino is to fully predict, we firmly believe it is better to invest in preparedness for the millions of vulnerable people who will be without access to food and to adopt a no-regrets investment policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we look at the current scope of undernutrition, we again see how systemic vulnerabilities render the elimination of malnutrition uneven, and unequal.

Despite recent major progress recognizing nutrition’s universal importance, large gaps remain.

For example, although the number of stunted children in Asia fell by more than 50 percent since 1990, the burden remains high for too many other countries and communities.  In the same period, in Africa, the number of stunted children has risen by 23 percent.

Being serious about our Agenda 2030 commitment to reach the furthest behind first, demands giving priority to efforts reaching highly-impacted people.

Thanks to the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN), plans are in place to do just that. Last month, the SUN Global Gathering gave renewed support to country-level action, going forward.

For our part in WFP, together with governments and partners we have a lot to contribute, particularly when it comes to serving isolated communities.

Our nutrition work has come a very long way, as demonstrated by the evaluation presented to this board, and WFP’s ongoing commitment to SUN and REACH clearly necessary to achieve a Zero Hunger world.

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. While we work to achieve a Zero Hunger world, the challenges, crisis and emergencies we support have never been greater in size or scope.

Beginning with South Sudan, where the shock of civil war persists, complicated by falling rates of food production, deepening economic crisis, and rising food prices—creating alarming levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

The newly released Integrated Phase Classification assessment reports some four million people are severely food insecure.  For the first time, the report identified “catastrophic levels” of hunger in Unity State, where in some areas Global Acute Malnutrition exceeds 30 percent.

Sporadic fighting, political volatility, and uneven implementation of the peace agreement, seriously impede our access to the most high-burden areas.

Preventing further deterioration, by providing uninterrupted life-saving assistance to pull people back from catastrophe, requires not only your financial, but also your continued political support.

Moving to Ethiopia, where El Nino has already affected the Meher harvest, and severely impacted livestock.

This is not a typical season.  Admissions to WFP’s Supplementary Feeding Programs have risen sharply, prompting a three-fold increase in our response, to target 1 million women and children.  Experts determined the lean season will begin three months earlier than usual—in February 2016.

The government has been decisive declaring 8.2 million people in need of urgent assistance, and allocating 200 million dollars from domestic resources to lead the response.

Together with the Government of Ethiopia, we call for additional action to increase our response before the situation reaches even more critical levels.

In Burundi, renewed engagement is necessary to halt spiraling crisis.  While more than 200,000 people sought refuge in neighboring countries needs within the country remain hidden and underfunded.

Entering into the lean season, we will respond assisting more than 100,000 affected people, while remaining watchful of the aggravating food and nutrition security situation.

Regional Director Valerie Guarneri will provide a full briefing on the region later in the board.
Moving west.

Ladies and gentlemen, last year, in this boardroom, we discussed the need to combat the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, and of how we would redouble our efforts.

WFP was asked to step-in at scale, and we did, knowing not only were the demands unprecedented, they were unpredictable.

We committed ourselves to supporting the infirm, survivors, orphaned children, isolated communities, health workers, and to doing whatever we could to get children back to schools, revitalize local food markets, and support farmers recover and reinvest.

We positioned WFP as the go-to logistics partner providing a major system-wide commons services platform.

One year on, we reaffirm our commitment, to work with the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, handing-over the regional Common Services Platform to support national efforts, while also providing the food, cash and nutrition support, ensuring communities not only survive, but thrive—and stay at zero.

We are working with the World Health Organization to expand the framework developed for Ebola into a global strategic partnership
capable of quickly deploying in response to future major health emergencies.

We could not have done all this, without this Board’s support and encouragement.  Thank You.  In the tail end of this Ebola fight, we ask the board to help us stay the course.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), despite the deactivation of the system-wide level three emergency, insecurity and instability remains unabated, food insecurity remains tremendously high, harshly affecting daily life. Our operations face significant access and supply chain challenges.

Following the recent killings of truck drivers, most transporters are hesitant to work in CAR even with increased security provided by MINUSCA. Evacuations of humanitarian staff, continue to limit operational capacity on the ground.

In Mali, conditions still prevent full return of refugees. Militants and conflict plague northern areas. Food convoys regularly come under attack, and in Gao, trucks have been looted. Global Acute Malnutrition rates average 12 percent.

In some places, rates exceed the critical threshold, such as Timbuktu, where 18 percent of children are affected. Going forward, we continue to focus on these immediate needs, while also supporting people’s resilience-building and livelihoods.

Across the Lake Chad region and northern Nigeria, the scale of the crisis alarms, as tensions and displacement continues.  Trade is disrupted. Livelihoods disappear. More than 4.7 million people require food assistance, 3.5 million people in Nigeria alone.

Regional Director Denise Brown will provide a full briefing on the region later in the board.

Moving to the Southern Africa region.

This board, we will present a new PRRO for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where increasing political tension, displacement, destroyed infrastructure, and armed conflict drive the persistent hunger and chronic malnutrition affecting almost half of all children under five years of age.

Reaching Zero Hunger in DRC, requires breaking the isolation of millions of people by restoring basic services while also stimulating local communities’ economies particularly by harnessing agriculture’s potential.

WFP stands ready to join hands with development partners, laying the groundwork to eliminate hunger, while ultimately giving people the chance for peace and prosperity.

Regional Director Chris Nikoi will provide further information on this and other operations later in the board.

Moving to the Middle East and North Africa.

I am often asked what is WFP doing to support the crisis in Europe, and I honestly respond: “feeding people in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.”

Because while crucial talks on Syria’s conflict continue, people endure greater hardship than ever before. People are losing hope and losing access to our assistance.  People without hope and without support will go where they can feed their families.

With people’s resources depleted after five long years, a bleak winter begins.  The longer the crisis goes on, the more negative and harmful coping strategies become.

Three in four Syrians now live in poverty. More than half of the population has gone into debt to meet just part of their food and other basic needs.

Throughout the country, 8.7 million people now require a variety of forms of food assistance.

WFP’s recent survey confirmed Al Hasakeh, Aleppo and Quinetra are the most deeply affected governorates, where access remains constrained.

Yet border closures, widespread insecurity, access constraints, and inability to access ISIL-controlled areas prevent us from reaching everyone in need.

We recognize and thank donors for their consistent support over the last five years, without which we would not have been able to reach an average of four million people every month.

Across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt more than 4 million refugees and host communities remain heavily impacted.

This year, shortfalls forced the removal of more than half a million people from our assistance programs and significantly reduced the level of assistance we can provide.

Prioritization planning, based on forecasting permitted us to stretch funding and regulate reductions.  Following recent pledges made, we restored partial assistance to over a quarter of a million refugees in Jordan.

We ask this Board for its continued support maintaining assistance throughout the winter season while also identifying longer-term mechanisms to maintain predictable and timely assistance.

In Yemen, far from the public’s consciousness, the crisis has deepened even beyond our worst fears and predictions.

Here too, the facts speak for themselves: 7.6 million people endure severe food insecurity; 320,000 children suffer Severe Acute Malnutrition; and 2.1 million children, nursing mothers and pregnant women require immediate nutrition assistance.

We are working to overcome access barriers and expand our reach.  By February 2016, we plan to reach five million people, with food and market-based approaches.

Regional Director Muhannad Hadi will provide additional details later in the board.

Moving to Latin American and the Caribbean.

During this Board, we will discuss the Central America Drought response.

Following two years of dry weather, coupled with the effects of El Nino, more than 4 million people are affected. Guatemala and Honduras are particularly hard hit. Vulnerable families now spend more than two-thirds their income on food. And as the recent WFP-IOM study attests, in Central America hunger drives migration.

Further north, in Haiti, farmers endure a third-year of drought, and back-to-back poor harvests. We anticipate the number of people facing crisis levels of food security will triple to 1.5 million people by March next year.

Our current response, less than one-quarter funded, reaches 150,000 people through food and cash transfers.  This Board session, we will propose a two-year extension and budget increase of 41 million dollars to the School Meals programme.

Regional Director Miguel Barreto will provide additional information and also inform the board about our recent cooperation with the Organization of American States.

Finally, moving to the newly renamed Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, and thankfully, more of a good news story.

In Nepal, we saw the critical role of both preparedness and common services platforms in facilitating rapid live-saving assistance, where and when it is needed most.

Thanks to then recently opened Humanitarian Staging Area, and the well-coordinated aid response, within weeks of the earthquake strike two million people received support. Almost six months later, we are maintaining this approach, interfacing humanitarian and development action ensuring we help the people of Nepal to build back better.

Regional Director David Kaatrud will provide additional reporting to the Board on this and other operations.

* * *
Ladies and gentlemen, this afternoon we will discuss the new Evaluation Policy.

With this Board’s support, we will continue to strengthen and invest in the evaluation function, at global, regional and country office levels.

Because we know, when correctly done, evaluation generates the evidence this board, our staff and our partners require, to learn, grow, and enhance our work for the people we serve.

With your approval, this new policy will lay the groundwork embedding evaluation into every facet of our work, providing capacity to deliver robust and credible evaluations throughout WFP.

We recognize real strength and growth comes from, not just amplifying and knowing what we are good at, but from candid assessment and learning from our weaknesses, and knowing, where and how we must perform better.

This is why evaluation is a crucial pathway transform to WFP, helping us ensure we’re doing things right, and know if we are doing the right
thing, working effectively and efficiently with the people we serve, and also our host governments, our partners, and our donors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, from my first board I committed to gender as a priority.

I am pleased to announce Kawizni Miui as the new Director, following Sonsoles Rueda’s retirement. Kawinzi actively engaged in the Gender Agenda for many years and we know she will bring her powerful perspective to this her new post.

Exellencies, since the approval of the gender policy in May we moved quickly, equipping Country Offices with the means to both present and identify implementation approaches specific to their context.

We also rebooted and transformed the Gender Advocacy Network into a Gender Results Network, with leaders from every Country Office, Regional Bureau and Headquarter division taking up this new responsibility.

Together with the new Gender Accountability Framework, we will continue to ensure that gender is the business of everyone in WFP whatever their role.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this board requested an update of our progress implementing Cash-Based Transfers.

With over 81 programs in 53 countries, I can confirm cash-based interventions have become a proven and widely-deployed instrument within our food assistance toolbox.

In the last four years, we tripled the use of cash-based transfers, reaching some 9 million people by the end of 2014. With 1,500 staff in 45 countries trained, our capacity to implement has never been greater.

When coupled with this board’s recent support for the Corporate Platform for Cash Based-Transfer, moving from cash and voucher to provide the right food access modality on a WFP platform, including cash, will grow.

WFP management is now working to strengthen our global platform, as we finalize agreements with financial institutions for a global network of service providers, capable of supporting our work, as well as the work of our partners rapidly and securely.

We are also working with retailers, brokers and wholesalers to ensure our cash based transfer system can drive lower retail prices for affected populations.

* * *

Board Members, I am pleased to note the return of Assistant Executive Director Elisabeth Rasmusson.  We are delighted Elisabeth is back with us, continuing to grow our partnerships capacity from strength to strength, positioning WFP as the “go to” partner for Zero Hunger.

Since this board last met, Elisabeth’s team launched the Partnership Resource Centre, providing a crucial platform for strengthening collaboration with host governments, NGOs, and interagency partners at every level of our operations.

We also launched the Corporate Advocacy Framework, which will provide greater consistency for our Zero Hunger advocacy efforts, so all staff, everywhere, can articulate how WFP’s work contributes to eliminating hunger and malnutrition.  The advocacy framework gives us new tools to better reach the public.

On World Food Day, we launched a 12-month social media campaign One Future Hashtag Zero Hunger to mobilize new audiences on hunger.

We will also keep building on the successful engagement, inspired by Milan EXPO 2015, where—in the closing days—we announced a new partnership with Alitalia.

Yes, we continue to pursue all avenues, to raise awareness, helping us build the public will required to achieve Zero Hunger.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, as this is our November Board, we will of course present our 2016 Management Plan.

This new 2016 to 2018 financial plan, employs a resourced-based approach, linking plans with forecasted income and allocations, better enabling a wide variety of food assistance tools, all the while ensuring value for money with every dollar we spend.

The 2016 forecast is set for 4.9 billion dollars, with a provisional prioritized plan of work, totaling 4.7 billion dollars, including ISC.

Reaffirming our commitment to live within our means, we are limiting the proposed PSA allocation budget to a 3% increase, despite a projected resourcing increase of some 11 percent.

Thus, we propose, a PSA appropriation of 290.3 million dollars, an 8.5 million dollar increase over last year’s approved level.

The Management Plan includes the final investment tranche of 17 million dollars for the last stage of Fit for Purpose operational improvement program.

By the end of 2016, we will have achieved progress across all of the six Fit for Purpose focus areas.

As we committed to you at the last board meeting, we will report back to you at the next board meeting on our progress.

The Management Plan also includes a request for 3 million dollars, as part of the cost excellence work to perform the business-process reengineering we require for improved efficiency and effectiveness and to finalize the business case for your further consideration regarding possible out-sourcing and off-shoring.

Through our informal consultation process, we will present information on these activities to the board throughout the year, bringing forward a robust business case supporting a suggested way forward during the November 2016 session.

We also look forward to engaging closely with this board early next year to begin defining the 2017 to 2021 Strategic Plan.

This strategic plan will detail our complete corporate alignment towards achieving Goal 2 Zero Hunger, while recognizing no one organization alone can or will perform the work required to achieve any of the goals.  And further that without sustainably and durably achieving every goal, we will not sustainably and durably achieve any goal.

WFP will work to support the outcomes of almost every goal but will concertedly work to achieve the outcome of Goal 2 Zero Hunger with the Rome Based Agencies.

To secure these efforts at the country level, we will also work with this board, to present a new Financial Framework Review next November.

By doing this, we believe we will maximize WFP’s contribution, permitting every operation in every country, to align itself fully with both global goals and national plans for their implementation.

We look forward to the board’s counsel, with this important alignment effort.

* * *

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, before I close, allow me update you on our continuing progress to support the people who make all of this happen—our 14,000 staff.

Many of you will have noticed the improvements here at headquarters, funded by the Government of Italy and our landlord, including new childcare facilities and space sufficient to host large-scale meetings previously held in paid locations.

We thank Italy and our landlord.

Recognizing our staff work in the planet’s toughest locations, most of our effort goes beyond Rome, but not out of sight.

The integrated Wellness Programme is advancing arrangements to provide vaccination campaigns, roving medical teams and upgrade staff living conditions, making them fully Fit for Purpose, ensuring clean drinking water, sleeping quarters and guesthouses meet minimum quality standards.

Additionally, we are finalizing comprehensive Regional Wellness Networks where medical, counselling, administration, human resources and security personnel, work hand-in-hand, ensuring we meet our commitments to staff, and that their work and rest environment enables the full productivity we demand of them.

Parallel to these efforts, we continue to implement the People Strategy, step-by-step, improving how we manage people.

This year’s Global Staff Survey gave us the chance to review how well we doing. The good news is, staff feel more engaged than ever—some 92 percent see a clear link between their work and our objectives.  Career development is also improving.  Of course, there are areas were we need to improve, particularly in line-management, leadership, and fully engaging and equipping all staff, with the tools and training they need, wherever they work.

A task which we believe may now become more difficult, with the International Civil Service Commission’s proposed new package, particularly impacting frontline, mobile staff, in the dangerous hardship duty stations where we work. We call on this Board’s support to raise these concerns in the Fifth Committee.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, there is a wise proverb:

“The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago.”

It is true, just think about the decisions taken by our predecessors, to create this organization’s operating structure, and the logistics and procurement expertise capable of acting fast and saving millions of lives day after day. I believe there is also another wise proverb:

“The next best time to plant a tree, is today.”

This is also true. Now is the time for this board, together with this management team to take the necessary decisions building the foundations for improving our work and ensuring this World Food Programme is fully reset, and fully fit, to help people and their governments overcome hunger and malnutrition.

Those of us sitting in these chairs we occupy today, let us make the decisions today, let us perform the work today.  So that when the world looks back in 2030, when they celebrate the achievement of Zero Hunger, they will say we together took the bold decisions and performed the right actions to ensure WFP’s ability to serve so many, so well, as needed.

Let them say, no child goes hungry because on behalf of the people we did our part and did our best.  Because when we look back from 2030, the decisions we make today will determine that.

Thank you.