Opening Remarks by Executive Director Ms. Ertharin Cousin on the Occasion of the Second Regular Session of the WFP Executive Board

Delivered on: 04 November 2013


Distinguished delegates, please allow me to join the President in welcoming the new members of the Board and in thanking those who have served us on this Board over this last year.  Let me give a special welcome to those who have travelled from capitals.  I would like to recognize from Burundi, Her Excellency Odette Kayitesi, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock.  From Ethiopia, His Excellency Ato Mitiku Kassa, State Minister of Agriculture.  From South Sudan, Her Excellency Awut Deng Acuil, Minister for Gender, Child, Social Welfare, Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management.  From Sudan, His Excellency Rahmatallah Mohammed Osman, the Under-Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Dr Sulaiman Abdel Rahman, Commissioner of Humanitarian Affairs.  From Germany, Ms. Ursula Műller, Director General of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.  From Switzerland, Mr. Arnold Wicki, Head of Multilateral Affairs at the Swiss Development Agency.  From the Republic of Korea, Ms. Seo Eunji, Director of Humanitarian Assistance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  And finally, please allow me to recognize Mr. Rick Leach, President of WFP–USA, from Washington D.C.We acknowledge the importance that representation from capitals gives to the session; we value your presence and contributions; we take this opportunity to thank each of you for joining us.

Today, allow me to focus on five key areas in this opening session.  First, our growing concern regarding threats to humanitarian access.  Second, the key outcomes of the recent UN General Assembly and the way forward for the Post-2015 agenda.  Third, highlights from the key policies and plans that we will discuss together throughout the session.     Fourth, WFP’s revised approach to partnership.  And finally, a brief review of the current status of WFPs major operations and emergencies.

Excellencies, WFP remains gravely concerned about challenges to humanitarian access that inhibit our ability to protect and provide for those most in need.  Today, this challenge plagues WFP and the entire humanitarian community across the world.  Yes, this problem plagues our ability to perform in Syria, but also in Northern Mali, Afghanistan, some parts of Pakistan -- the list is far too long and ever growing.

Even in the most peaceful contexts, meeting the food needs of vulnerable populations is challenging.  The challenges and complexities increase exponentially in fragile and conflict-affected states.  Often to a point that threatens our access and operations.

Despite the fact that we fully adhere to the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality—hardly a single day passes in WFP without staff, partners or contractors being threatened for providing assistance.

The humanitarian principles were developed during the early existence of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  And, we are honoured to have President Peter Maurer with us today.  He will to share ICRC’s perspective on the challenges and how we might improve access.

The humanitarian principles were incredible achievements.  Although they remain relevant, we have observed that the nature of conflict itself has changed.  And, we see several important trends in these changes that have a daily impact on our work:

First, there has been a rapid increase in the number of non-state armed actors that are engaged in conflict—actors either unaware  of or uninterested in the humanitarian principles and humanitarian roles;

Second, certain states have become increasingly suspicious of humanitarians and limit NGO operations; and

Finally, efforts for greater UN coherence sometimes can erode the distinction between the humanitarian and peacekeeping elements of the UN system.

As a result, the number of violent attacks against aid workers is rising; and the people that we serve often face severe threats and attacks.

We must end this near impunity.  We must dialogue with new actors and states to effectively communicate our—and their— obligations.  We must resist politicisation.  And, to overcome the threats, we must effectively manage and share the risks.

Yes, we must maintain principled humanitarian practice in today’s world.  And, organizations like ICRC and WFP, each with their substantial field presence, share a special role in performing this work.

Excellencies, we are honoured to join ICRC in commemorating their 150th anniversary.  We share a special relationship in the field.  We share a commitment to meeting the hunger needs of those suffering from crisis and shocks.  We look forward to Peter’s remarks this morning.


Excellencies, no person in our world today should suffer from hunger.  The Millennium Development Goals provided the global community with a set of shared commitments.  Many countries achieved the goals, but, unfortunately, to date too many have not achieved the goal of even reducing hunger by half.  We must continue identifying opportunities and assisting those countries, where over the next 787 days before the end of 2015, we can reduce the number of chronically hungry by half and achieve that Millennium Development Goal.

Then we must do more.  We have an unprecedented opportunity to shape decisions that can eliminate hunger in our lifetime.  Although some gains have been made, we must solidify progress and make an even greater push for zero hunger, so that we can complete the unfinished business of MDG One.  Within the next six to nine months, all of us must raise the flag on food security and nutrition.  We now have an opportunity to speak with one, united voice.

At this year’s General Assembly, we took the opportunity to highlight WFP’s and the other RBA’s vision for eliminating chronic hunger and malnutrition.  We presented clear arguments why hunger and malnutrition must be kept at the top of the global agenda, through a dedicated standalone goal on food security and nutrition in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

This time, we must unite the world around clear, measurable zero-based targets.  Why?  Because by committing ourselves to zero-based targets, we say that we firmly reject inequity and we acknowledge that no child should ever go stunted; that food must be accessible at all times; and that food systems should be sustainable.

There is still much to work to done to ensure the global community’s support for a food and nutrition security standalone goal.  And, we ask you to promote the cause and to commit to the Zero Hunger Challenge and a standalone goal.


Excellencies, since our last session, I can report that Rome-Based Agency (RBA) collaboration is ever-deepening.  Whether it is through our shared support for the Zero Hunger Challenge or support for working more productively together serving the world’s hungry poor.

To date, country-level actions have received priority attention.  Already we have many strong examples.  The Excellence Award for Country-Level Collaboration between the RBAs rewards those teams who successfully embrace this ideal and achieve value added benefit for those we serve.  The next award ceremony will be held during our June 2014 annual board session and at the FAO Conference the following year.  We will showcase the winning team during a jointly hosted side-event at the 2014 UNGA.

The RBAs also remain committed to supporting the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).  To achieve our shared goal of ending chronic hunger and malnutrition the world needs an effective and financially stable CFS.  The RBAs pledged to share the costs of the CFS for the next two years, and to work with membership to find a more sustainable funding approach.

Gender is also an important area where RBA collaboration is bearing fruit.  Together with UN Women, the RBAs are implementing a joint five-year programme for Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment.  We are also proactively supporting the implementation of the UN system- wide action plan on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In all of these efforts, we acknowledge that the RBAs must work more strategically together not simply to achieve the goal of working together but to sustainably address the challenges of chronic hunger and malnutrition.


Excellencies, I would also like to take the opportunity to provide you with an update of key UN inter-agency dialogue.  In particular, the progress with the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) and the Transformative Agenda.

Within the QCPR, WFP participates in the UN Development Group (UNDG) and the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM).    Within these groups we have developed priority action-plans, tools and guidance to help country teams further operationalize the QCPR.  These efforts include: the approval of New Standard Operating Procedures for Delivering as One; and core QCPR implementation indicators—which we have incorporated into the Strategic Results Framework to measure implementation.

On the Transformative Agenda, WFP continues to play an active role in its implementation.  Making it operational continues to be a priority for this organization.  Since our last meeting, we have issued two circulars on the Transformative Agenda and developed guidance on “Operationalizing the TA for our Emergency Preparedness and Response training.’’   These have been shared with you.

I will continue to keep you – the Board – fully informed of these discussions and WFP’s implementation activities.


Excellencies, please turn your attention to the key policy matters that we will present to you this week.

In presenting these new policies and updates, we are fortunate to have had many robust informal meetings.  Once again, thank for your contributions.

Members expressed significant interest in the paper entitled WFP’s Role in Peace-Building in Transition Settings.  In the final version of the policy, we address your concerns because, as many of you have noted, this policy is not intended to change the mandate of WFP.  Rather, it is intended to provide our staff with guidance and to ensure that we do no harm in our provision of food assistance during periods of transition.

This policy takes a modest approach, emphasizing how WFP must remain focused on hunger relief and through this work contribute to wider UN efforts to promote peace.

During this session, we will also present a revised School Feeding Policy.  This is not a new direction rather it is a revision that incorporates the corporate shift to food assistance.  We recognize that school feeding is an effective safety net.  Needless to say school feeding provides meals to children and, where appropriate, their families during crisis.  And in providing school feeding, it is crucial that we work with others to look beyond just providing food to children in school but also increasing the educational opportunities school should provide.

Of course, WFP will not lead on actions related to education, as this is not our comparative advantage.  Rather, we will strengthen our partnerships with UNICEF and UNESCO for joint efforts that raise the quality of education that children receive.  The School Feeding Policy sets out a framework for WFP’s more responsive engagement with governments and the communities where we work.  The policy also reinforces our ability to track results during the implementation of school feeding programs.


Excellencies, now allow me to turn to the Management Plan.  The Management Plan underpins all of the WFP actions and provides the financial resources for our work.

Our estimated funding, of 4.2 billion U.S. dollars for 2014 is reasonable and in line with current resource trends.  Management recognizes the significant gap between the operational requirements and the projected available resources.  Because of this, we must prioritize and undertake a triage to maintain life-saving operations.  We will also continue pursuing additional funding opportunities including new innovative funding resources.

We remain committed to working with you to address this gap.  And, within the confines of our current funding model, we will deliver value for money and work to create a stable as well as realistic financial structure.

Through this plan, we continue to seek efficiencies and economies, because the Fit for Purpose efficiencies that we have introduced are already paying dividends.  For example:

•    We have reduced global travel costs.  After just one year, we have reduced our corporate travel spending by 9 million U.S. dollars;

•    We are introducing the Energy Efficiency Programme, to reduce energy use and save 1.5 million U.S. dollars; and

•    We are installing solar panels in remote field locations which will save nearly 50,000 liters of fuel per year.

Over the coming years, we remain committed to identifying additional savings and other cost efficiencies.  Every future Management Plan will deliver on this commitment as we identify new opportunities for achieving our goal of a Fit for Purpose WFP.  Your approval of the Management Plan will allow us to operationalize the Strategic Plan and achieve further efficiencies that will ultimately benefit the people on the ground.  I look forward to a robust and positive discussion on the Management Plan.

Excellencies, the Strategic Results Framework will of course also be discussed during this meeting.  The framework provides us with a normative structure for project design, implementation, monitoring and reporting.

The revised framework represents WFP’s continuing evolution and consolidates the shift from food aid to food assistance.  There are several important additions, specifically:

•    The framework improves the way that gender is measured corporately;

•    it incorporates the QCPR process;

•    the framework sharpens our outcome statements;

•    it includes additional outputs as well as indicators; and

•    the framework amends the country-level business rules.

Excellencies allow me to briefly highlight some of the key developments in our approach to evaluations to the Board.

WFP will double the number of single Operations Evaluations next year.  We are doing this to close a long-standing evaluation coverage gap.  This marks a key milestone in our accountability-for-results agenda.

Our objective is to ensure that WFP’s approach to evaluation is Fit for Purpose; with robust evaluation of our front-line operations where learning “what works” and “what needs to change” matters most to the people we serve.

Finally, during this session we have tabled evaluations of some of our most important operations for your consideration.  We look forward to discussing them with you in more detail later in the session.


I would now like to briefly discuss our partnership strengthening strategy.

Our goal is to make WFP the partner of choice.  Whether we are responding to an emergency, providing a universal platform for vouchers or contributing to adolescent development—we are working to make WFP the “Go To” partner.

We will continue promoting the fundamental shift and transformation of the partnership culture of WFP by working at two levels. First, we will develop a new high-level corporate Partnership Strategy that will present—for the first time—a single definition of partnerships and the underlying partnership principles for the whole WFP organization.  Second, we will implement an internal strategy and action plan which will change the way we work with existing partners.

Please allow me to briefly update you on other key partnerships since our last session.

Last week, many of you joined us when over 55 of WFP’s main partners, including 33 represented by their CEOs, came together with us here in Rome to discuss ways to further improve our partnership.  This event has now become a “not-to-be-missed” forum.

This year we launched the Partnership Innovation Fund.  Right now, national and international NGOs together with country-level WFP offices are applying to win seed capital for new joint innovative food assistance programs.

In addition to the RBAs and our NGO partners, we at WFP are also committed to working better together with the other UN agencies.  For example, as you know, we are closely cooperating with UNHCR, supporting the expansion of the use of cash and vouchers in refugee operations.  We have agreed to expand on our already successful partnership on cash and vouchers and to extend the already successful Joint Plan of Action into 2014.

We are also working closely with the SG’s Special Representative Dr. David Nabarro in prioritizing our participation in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.  Consequently, WFP has become a member of the technical group of the recently established UN Network for Scaling Up Nutrition.  As the world’s largest humanitarian agency, it is essential that our nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programming efforts are integrated with government, civil society, other UN agencies and the private sector.

At the recent SUN Global Gathering, WFP emphasized the relative importance of different nutrition-sensitive measures.  Although efforts to prevent stunting have rightly been a primary focus, further efforts are required to fully leverage the contribution of agriculture, social protection and education to nutrition.

Since our last board meeting, the partnership between WFP and UNFPA that focuses on improving the nutrition of adolescent girls and pregnant and breastfeeding women now also includes UNICEF.  The partnership between WFP, UNFPA and UNICEF will be jointly piloted in four countries -- Zambia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Niger -- where maternal mortality ranges from 400 to 800 per 100,000 live births and teenage pregnancies are all too common.

And, of course, WFP maintains very extensive collaboration with regional bodies, such as the African Union and others.  During their presentations this week WFP Regional Directors will provide you with an update of our collaboration with regional bodies.


Excellencies, successful partnerships are fundamental for achieving our shared vision of a Zero Hunger world.  They are also critical in WFP’s work of saving lives and livelihoods.  There are a number of major operations and emergencies which require specific Board attention and support.

Today, the Syria crisis response remains our largest humanitarian operation.  But before we turn to Syria in detail, I must bring your attention to the growing operational and resource-related challenges of other major emergency operations.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the scale of the crisis is at its highest since 2003.  We recently completed a country-wide Emergency Food Security Assessment.  It is now estimated that 1.3 million people are food insecure.  We are currently scaling-up our assistance to vulnerable groups, to reach a minimum of half a million of the most vulnerable people by the end of the year.  The security situation continues to challenge access for WFP operations.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the situation remains dynamic and although we continue to monitor and meet food security threats we now face serious operational shortfalls.  Renewed conflict has heavily impacted the food security situation.  It is estimated that there are over one million IDPs in the North Kivu alone.  In the South Kivu, conflict between the army and several rebel groups has led to new displacements.  In Orientale Province, on-going fighting has triggered a movement of 121,000 IDPs, and about 100,000 people are in need of assistance.  In other areas, over 50,000 refugees have recently arrived from CAR.  We are very concerned about the resourcing situation for the protracted response.  As of October 2013, the six-month operational shortfall is around US$70 million, of which US$7.9 million is for C&V activities.  The shortfall has particularly serious consequences for our planned nutrition programmes.  Because of resourcing challenges we cannot implement nutritional programmes beyond this month, November 2013.

In Kenya, because of significant funding shortfalls, we must reduce rations by 20 percent for more than half a million refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.  If we do not receive additional resources, we expect that our food stocks will be nearly exhausted by January requiring additional ration cuts.

In Yemen, WFP's primary emergency operation is targeting five million people in 2013, in 13 governorates across Yemen.  Yet, humanitarian access is constrained and international staff members continue to be kidnapped by a number of groups.  The highly volatile security situation suggests that this threat will continue in the near and medium terms.

In Syria, we are scaling up to reach 4 million people by December.  In October, despite significant access challenges we distributed food for 3.4 million people.  Through our partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and 23 local NGOs, we provide family food rations to meet basic food needs, we supply wheat flour for bakeries, and we support supplementary feeding for malnourished children.

The cross-line humanitarian challenges cannot be understated or underestimated.  Fighting, road-blocks and controls reduce our ability to provide assistance at the scale that it is needed.  Where we can reach today, we may not be able to reach tomorrow.

Syrian population displacement also exerts a massive impact on populations across the region.  In Lebanon, refugees now compete with the local population for resources, for homes, for employment and for food.  Two-out-of-every-five families in the north are badly impacted by food price rises.  In response to increasing prices, they cut the number of meals that they eat every day, reduce the quality of their diet and exhaust their savings to buy food.

Across the region, WFP currently supports 1.3 million people.  In October, we reached over 480,000 people in Jordan; over 510,000 people in Lebanon; over 115,000 people in Turkey; over 89,000 people in Iraq and over 25,000 in Egypt.  Yet, there are large pockets of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt that we still must reach.  More needs to be done.  Our target is to support up to 1.8 million refugees by the end of 2013.

There is some good news.  Vouchers represent 90 percent of WFP’s regional response, benefitting the people we serve and the local economy.  Already, over 66 million U.S. dollars has been invested in Lebanon, 47 million in Jordan, 26 million in Turkey and 10 million in Iraq.

In developing our future responses we must also consider that the region’s long-term stability is at stake.  Resilience and recovery must begin now.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the many governments and organizations for their continued financial commitment and generosity to date.

Members of the Board, we continue to monitor emergencies and to highlight attention on those people who need our assistance the most.  The worsening security situation in Afghanistan presents a constant challenge in the provision of food and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups.  We are carefully monitoring the situation in South Sudan and the Abyei region in particular, where there is a high risk of displacement.    And we remain watchful in the Sahel, where food insecurity has become even more complicated by the presence of armed groups, and political instability.

Many of our operations that do not make the headlines face severe shortfalls.  For example, the Uganda Country Programme has a shortfall of 75 percent in its funding for the next six months.  Important Mother and Child Health interventions in the crisis-prone Karamoja region are now at risk.

We will continue seeking the resources to perform this work because we should not prioritize the needs of one hungry person over another.

Honorable Ministers, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, I thank you for your patience in listening this morning and I look forward to our discussion.

I would like to close with an old African proverb shared during our partnership consultation.  We believe that it captures the essence of WFP’s evolution: “If you want to travel fast, travel alone.  If you want to travel far, travel together.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we continue to seek your counsel on this journey as we travel together in pursuit of our shared goal of achieving a world free from chronic hunger and malnutrition.  Once again, thank you.