Opening Remarks by the Executive Director on the Occasion of the First Regular Session of the Executive Board

Delivered on: 10 February 2014


Thank you, Madame President, and congratulations on your election to what we know will be a very fruitful year as we all work together.  Please allow me to take a few moments to welcome you to this session and to give a special welcome to those of you who have travelled here from your capitals.

I would like to welcome from: Yemen, His Excellency Mohammed Saeed Al Sa'adi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation of the Republic of Yemen; from Germany, Ms. Ursula Műller, Director General, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; from the United States of America, Ms. Nerissa Cook, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of State; Ms. Suzanne Palmieri, Associate Administrator for the Foreign Agriculture Service at the Department of Agriculture; and Ms. Dina Esposito, Director, Office of Food for Peace in USAID; from Sudan, Dr. Sulaiman Abdel Rahman, Commissioner of the Humanitarian Aid Commission; and His Excellency Adil Bashir Hassan Bashir, Director of Peace and Humanitarian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I would also like to welcome a few special friends of WFP: again, Mr. Richard Leach, from the World Food Program USA, has joined us; and for this Board meeting we are also very pleased to welcome Mr. Yasue Sekiguchi, who is the Executive Officer of the Japan Association for WFP.  Thank you all for contributing to our work, for your support and for travelling to be with us today.

A wise woman once said, “Promises are like babies, they are easy to make, but they are hard to deliver.”  This is the year that we at WFP begin to deliver on our promises.  We made a number of promises to you under Fit for Purpose, and with the Board’s support, significant efforts were taken to strengthen the operation in 2013.

Last year’s USD 20 million supplementary PSA allocation helped us establish the organizational structure required for WFP’s transformation.  We achieved much progress, including the completion of a major business process scoping review, where 38 different work streams have been identified.  These new workstreams will allow us to ensure that Fit for Purpose has meaning and makes a systemic difference in WFP.  Our Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Amir Abdulla, has accepted the responsibility to be a change manager, to ensure that we have someone who is focused every day on ensuring that we are moving forward to complete these major activities.  We will ensure that they begin to become more than just items on paper, they become the way we do business.

This will also include streamlining of our food and procurement activities, bringing decisions about food closer to our delivery points, as well as the strengthening of our HR processes and policies.  With your investment, we have also completed significant work that supported the agreed separations and staff transfers that ensure that we have the right people in the right posts.  Additionally, we completed a major review of our liaison office presence.

  We will constantly review and change processes to improve our work.  The foundations were laid in 2013 through our restructuring and reorganization.  Now, 2014, is the year we begin to deliver on the promises even though it may be difficult.

This morning, we will outline for you the work that we are performing, including from an operations standpoint, to ensure that we are meeting the mandated requirements of this organization, while simultaneously continuing to move forward and perform the work that will ensure that we are delivering on those promises.  I will cover a number of areas: our policy and programme issues, with a particular focus on our major operations; where we are in our strategic partnership development work; what we are doing to improve United Nations agency collaboration; some major progress on resource management; our people transformation work; our continued focus on accountability and transparency; and, finally, we will review some of the evaluation outcomes that we will discuss later in the Board meeting.

Delivering on promises requires continuous policy and programme improvements.  Looking at the current global food security situation, we can see that the overall outlook is more balanced than in recent years, but that threats remain.  Although the 2013 FAO Price Index fell by almost two percent, it is still the third highest value ever recorded.  As a result the 2013 global food import bill declined by some 3 percent to USD 1.15 trillion.  Yes, this eases the pressure on low-income, food-importing countries.  Agricultural food systems, however, still have serious structural imbalances.  For WFP, this means that we expect excessive price volatility will return to food markets, potentially further detrimentally impacting the most vulnerable in the places where we serve around the globe.  It is important, and it is imperative, that we continue to invest in food-systems and safety net programmes to minimize future price volatility and its repercussions on the poorest and the most vulnerable.  

We must invest.  Hunger continues to take its relentless toll on people and economies.  Evidence from the joint African Union Commission / WFP Cost of Hunger study tells us that hunger devastates growth, simple as that.  National economies pay a high price for hunger and chronic malnutrition.  Economic productivity losses of approximately 6 percent in Uganda and 16 percent in Ethiopia have been demonstrated to be directly related to hunger and chronic malnutrition.  Hunger also plunders people’s potential.  Take the example of Guatemala, where stunting has been shown to detrimentally impact children’s future performance in schools and their opportunities for the balance of their lives.  These children become adults who earn less, live in poor health and—too often—in abject poverty.  We must invest to empower people and to build productive economies.  The facts are clear: investments in eliminating hunger will deliver strong returns.  

Yes, WFP is working to support governments in building safety net programmes, but we do not forget that the world requires us to continue to respond to emergency situations with the excellence for which you have all become accustomed.  This year is a record year for major emergency responses.  We began this year responding to four Level Three emergencies.  I would like to provide an update on some of these key emergencies.

In the Central African Republic, where the humanitarian scale-up is hindered by significant challenges and insecurity, it is estimated that 400,000 people are internally displaced in Bangui and 825,000 are internally displaced nationwide.  Some 1.1 million people outside Bangui were assessed as food-insecure pre-crisis.  We know that these numbers continue to escalate every day, particularly as the challenges for reaching those in the rural areas become ever more difficult because of increased security issues on the roads between Bangui and the outer areas in the Central African Republic.  Despite this security situation, in January, WFP reached 280,000 people in Bangui, Bouar and Bossangoa.  But in order for us to continue to perform at this level, routes need to be secured to ensure that drivers will deliver the food to the areas where affected people are located without fear of sacrificing their lives.  Many of our trucks today remain stranded at the border en route to Bangui, or they cannot get out of Bangui, to deliver into the rural areas.  The financial situation complicates our ability to remain secure and to deliver.  Underfunding in the Central African Republic is creating a situation where we, WFP, are critically concerned that we will not have the resources that are necessary to pre-position food as we move into the rainy season.  Adding the security situation today, with the complication of the rains tomorrow, we ask the Board to consider the potential challenges of those who will go without food.  We need your assistance.  We need your support.

In South Sudan, conflict exacerbates food insecurity and disrupts the planting season.  In response, we have shifted our operations from an aggressive and a responsive PRRO, which was recently approved by the Board, to a full emergency response.  More than 500,000 people are internally displaced and over 100,000 have fled the country.  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases are sheltering 100,000 people across the country.  Some seven million people are food-insecure or at risk of food insecurity.  For WFP, humanitarian access and the looting of food stocks is a major concern.  For example, WFP’s warehouses in Malakal have been almost entirely emptied.  In fact, we have already lost 4,300 metric tons of food to looting in Malakal.  This food would have reached 257,000 people for one month.  This greatly complicates our efforts to assist people affected by the conflict.

Of course, we are working to recover lost stocks, but, more importantly we are working to ensure that we can reach people—whether they are in government areas or in areas held by anti-government forces—and that we have the food available to support them.  Just as we have identified the challenge of pre-positioning stocks in the Central African Republic, a similar challenge remains in South Sudan.  We must pre-position stocks to ensure that we have the stocks available as we enter the rainy season.  Again, just as stated in CAR, we have a funding shortfall, which means that we are in a position where we do not have enough resources necessary to purchase the stocks that will be required not just to feed today, but to ensure that we can continue to reach people as the rains come.

Move to the Syrian Arab Republic, where a complex emergency grows ever more complicated every day.  Humanitarian access remains a challenge and significant gaps remain.  The reality is that we are working to feed 4.25 million people.  The challenge is we have not had the access that has allowed us, over the last three months, to get above 3.8 million people.  The presence of security incidents, such as the detention of trucks, hampers our consistent access and one convoy getting in does not make or define access.  Just last weekend, I am sure many of you saw the challenges that our team faced, in an attempt to try and reach people in Homs that we had not been able to reach for months.  This attempt was made during what was an agreed ceasefire. 

The challenge is that when we are delivering humanitarian assistance, we also have a protection responsibility.  We are protecting those that we are serving as we are simultaneously providing the humanitarian assistance; but we are not blue helmets, we are humanitarians and we must ask ourselves where we draw the lines.  Syria is creating more challenges on many of these unanswered questions for the entire humanitarian community.  I have asked Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi, who is here with us today, to provide a briefing to the Board during your lunch time.  Mr Hadi will provide an informal briefing on the status of where we are with all of the distributions both in the regime-held areas, the opposition areas, as well as in these besieged areas as we are going forward.  

Across the region affected by the impact of the Syrian crisis, we continue to serve more than two million Syrians who have taken refuge in the five neighbouring countries.  What we are beginning to see is that the crisis is creating more instability in those countries as well, as refugees and host communities compete for food and for homes and for jobs.  The poorest and most vulnerable in each of those communities are those who are in direct competition now for services and support with the refugees.  Poor and vulnerable families bear the weight, whether they are the refugee families or the host community families.

WFP is proud to say that our cash and voucher programme has provided approximately USD 300 million to the communities of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.  We provide vouchers to the refugees who then shop in markets that are owned and run by many who live in the communities where they are being hosted.

Syria continues to impact not just the region but, as we discussed, other operations such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan where the impact of financial shortfalls are felt.

At the beginning of the year, the Philippines response was still a Level Three emergency.  When we last met, if you remember, the typhoon was just making landfall in the Philippines.  WFP was able to reach 2.8 million people in the first 30 days of our response.  Some 14 million people were affected, 4.1 million people were displaced and 6,200 people died.  Ninety percent of the infrastructure in Tacloban was destroyed.  To respond, we launched a six-month operation on four of the islands of the Philippines, where the situation remains fragile.  I must say thank you to the members of the Board, and to the entire global community for the financial support that was so generously provided for our response in the Philippines.  This was an unexpected but devastating disaster that we were able to respond to because donors, the private sector and individuals stepped up and allowed us to mobilize the help that was necessary.

In Yemen, which is one of the country programmes that you will hear about tomorrow, the country continues to face serious humanitarian challenges and insecurity.  Political tensions are high, and the discussions between parties ended without an agreement risking armed conflict in both the north and the south in Yemen.  The security situation is fragile and there are 10 million people who are estimated to be severely food insecure.  Two million children are assessed as stunted, and one million are acutely malnourished.  When I visited Yemen, President Hadi told me that food insecurity is their biggest problem because it directly impacts the security of the country.  We will require additional donor support to ensure that we can address this great challenge of food insecurity in Yemen.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, resources are shrinking as we continue to address the growing instability in that country.  The conflict has resulted in 4.3 million people who are displaced, with 2.9 million people who are conflict displaced in the Kivu area alone.  WFP recognizes that we have not, in the past, done everything that we needed to do in the DRC, but we are working to ensure that our operations meet the needs of all of those who require food assistance.  But again, we have been forced to cut rations because we do not have the resources.

In Mali, we expect that there will be a full pipeline break from April onwards.  We will then be unable to provide life-saving assistance to approximately 800,000 people.

In Zimbabwe, at the peak of the hunger season, WFP is now forced to scale down activities by reducing and stopping rations.

We cannot prioritize one hungry child over another.  We cannot ignore the responsibilities of WFP to address the challenges of the most vulnerable, who are affected either by protracted crisis or quick onset emergency.  This Board, the donors and the global community have been generous to WFP.  We recognize that generosity and we projected that we would raise USD 4.2 billion in 2013.  In fact, we raised USD 4.3 billion.  We know that the problem is not one of lack of generosity amongst the donors.

But the reality is what it is.  We never take the resources that we receive for granted, and we will continuously demonstrate value to the people that we serve, to the governments which invest in us and the partners with whom we work.  We will continuously seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this organization, to ensure that the dollars you invest in us provide the support that is necessary to those we serve.  We do this because we are well aware that every dollar we spend on overhead is one dollar less for those we serve in the field.  Yes, we will continue to minimize our costs and maximize our outcomes.

We also know that we must broaden our donor base if we are going to address the issue of the funding gap.  In 2013, the number of government donors fell from 105 to 99.  In response, WFP reached out to new partners and governments.  A new global network of WFP Donor Relations Officers is now in place.  The Board also approved a new corporate partnership programme.  And last year, we increased the amount that we received from the private sector from USD 64 million to USD 77.5 million.   We have also increased the number of individual donors to WFP by 17 percent.  We now have 30,000 individual donors.  

This year, we are also planning to launch a new innovative funding method.  We will launch an initiative called FoodSECuRE.  FoodSECuRE will provide financing to tackle climate-induced food insecurity.  We know that each year billions are spent to prepare for, and to respond to, disasters.  By 2050, we anticipate that an additional 100 to 200 million people will be at risk of becoming food insecure due to climate change.  There are few existing mechanisms to support community-level preparations.  FoodSECuRE will create a viable mechanism to support resilience-building activities both before and after climatic shocks.  We aim to launch this new mechanism in support of our programmes in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and in South Asia.  Full details of the FoodSECuRE plan will be presented at the Board’s Annual Session.  Between now and that meeting we will come to you for an informal consultation on FoodSECuRE.

We need FoodSECuRE and other innovative funding tools because the problems will not get smaller.  We must continue seeking the resources that are necessary to ensure that we can perform the work that is required.  

In order to deliver on the promises of our programmes and of our commitment to the Board, we need to invest in our people, and we must enable our capable, action-focused staff to deliver on results.  All the successes that we have talked about are achieved by WFP’s heroic staff.  The management and leadership of our people will always be a priority for this leadership team.  This will be a priority for WFP at every level to ensure that we can fully leverage the skills of all of our staff.  We are taking concrete actions to ensure that our staff work better together and work effectively with partners, contractors and governments.  We know that we do not do this work alone, and that we are accountable not just to the Board but ultimately to the people that we serve.  We will present a comprehensive, future-looking people strategy at the June Board meeting.

As a part of our people-management activities we are focused on our national staff.  You have heard me talk about this before, because we recognize that the national staff represent the backbone of our operations.  We have begun the Locally Recruited Staff Transfer Project to bring all of our staff under a single framework.  We are now examining how we can use other forms of staff contracts to ensure that we fairly pay all of our staff, wherever they are.  We will also pilot a Service Contract Review Exercise in four countries, to support the activities of providing better contracts for our staff across the entire organization.  We must ensure that WFP staff are also recognized, through the payments that they receive from us, that we respect them and that we support the work that they perform for this organization and for the people we serve together.

For our international staff, since we last met we have gone through another Senior Reassignment, a Regular Reassignment and a Promotion Exercise.  As a part of that promotion exercise, 21 staff were promoted to the P3 grade and 66 staff were promoted to the P4 grade.  There were many deserving staff and we took some really tough decisions.  We wanted to make sure that we recognized the efforts of our field-based staff and, as a result, 72 percent of the promotions were to field-based staff.  Some 62 percent of promoted staff were developing country nationals, and 54 percent of those promoted were women.  The process that we implemented was a new one and we are now working to improve it further as we move forward to promotion exercises for 2014 and beyond.  

But it is not just about promotion, it is also about ensuring that we bring the right staff into the organization.  Talent acquisition is key for WFP to build the team of the future.  To enable our ability to respond, we must have a new recruitment strategy and that new recruitment strategy is under way.  The first phase of that is to ensure that JPOs will be a key pillar for hiring the best young people.  Many of the members of the Board, your countries, invest in JPOs and you understand the value of the programme.  We need more good JPOs and we will ensure that there is a pathway for them to succeed in WFP, for the opportunities that they need for their career and to ensure that we have the people that we need to perform.  We will also create a talent roster to reduce the on-boarding time and to make the recruitment process more transparent.  We are creating new tools to support our staff.  We will launch initiatives that build leadership skills, awareness and accountability and will establish a supportive infrastructure to revise our human resource policies and set targets on career planning opportunities.

We also must deal with the gender issues in WFP.  The gender policy evaluation has inspired many conversations both inside this building and outside.  The evaluation of the 2009 Gender Policy is comprehensive and hard-hitting.   It considered evidence from 60 country offices, and I assure you that we are committed to making the changes that are necessary to address the challenges that were outlined in that evaluation.

We are fundamentally revising WFP’s approach to gender.  Our current United Nations SWAP score is below where WFP should be and where WFP will be.  WFP will meet and exceed all gender SWAP performance standards.  Gender is important and will be discussed at every Board session this year.  We will begin immediately working on a new gender policy.  The new policy will be developed in a participatory way and at the Annual Session we will update you on gender mainstreaming and accountability.  In November, we will update you on where we are in the development of the new gender policy.  But we will not wait for a new policy.  Every Regional Director has been asked to review, with their Country Offices, what we are doing today to move gender forward in this organization and to mainstream gender into our programming.  We will not wait for a policy to get it right; we have the people on the ground who we know can help us get it right.

Finally, as we talk about our people we must look at issues of having a healthy and fit workplace that promotes the physical, mental and social well-being of our staff.  Last year 4,000 of our staff completed a health risk assessment.  Its results have helped shape the medical care that we provide across WFP and the UN system.  We have also begun a vaccination policy which includes our national staff.  Humanitarian risks have been mapped for preventative programmes and an evidence-based occupational health and safety policy was launched.  We have initiated health promotion programmes in all the languages of the United Nations.  Our people are priority at WFP.

But to deliver on the promise, WFP must continue to succeed in its goal of becoming a strategic partner of choice, because partnership is essential for WFP to achieve its four Strategic Objectives.  We will give meaning to that at every level of the organization.  Yes, we now have better relationships with all of our NGO partners, because we have created a new partnership programme at the global level.  This year, we will work to ensure that we drive that down to developing better relationships with our NGO partners at the regional and country levels.  Each of the Regional Directors have committed this year that, as part of their regional meetings, they will also meet with NGO teams at the regional and country levels.  The new approach to partnership will return tangible results for WFP and help us deliver on the promise.

We cannot talk about partnerships without talking about the Rome-based agencies.  We recognize that Rome-based agency (RBA) collaboration is central to Fit for Purpose.  But we must move beyond the RBA partnerships of increasing efficiency and effectiveness to how we buy and work together here in Rome.  Partnership must mean something at the field level as well.  As a result, we are working to enhance country collaboration as a key goal of our activities in 2014.  In every country, the RBAs will together identify project-by-project opportunities to establish country-based plans and agreements and put in place information-sharing platforms where those opportunities present themselves.  This year, we will present the RBA Working Together Award at the WFP Executive Board in June and that team would then go to New York where a side event will be hosted on the margins of UNGA to demonstrate to the world the effectiveness of RBAs working together at country level.

To deliver on the promise, we must also meet our obligation as a United Nations specialized agency, which means we will continue to keep the Board fully informed on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) developments.  At this session, we will share an information note with you regarding the QCPR and WFP’s implementation activities.  WFP is actively implementing QCPR decisions internally, as well as with other agencies, as required.  For example, the standard operating procedures for Delivering as One were shared and these SOPs’ key areas include joint leadership, programmes and budgets.  We anticipate that Delivering as One will become ever more common across the different countries where we serve.

We are working to mainstream the Transformative Agenda into management and operation efforts across the organization.  We maintain our active role in rolling out and implementing the Transformative Agenda.  We will continue to second and deploy staff to ensure that we can support the capacity that is necessary to support the humanitarian community across the board as we work in different operations.  WFP is also supporting the development of key Transformative Agenda guidance, including Transformative Agenda protocols that will be finalized within this quarter that will then be shared with the Board.

As we move forward as a member of the United Nations community, of course we are working with the Rome-based agencies and the other members of the United Nations as appropriate to support the post-2015 discussions around sustainable development goals.

As many of you are aware there is language out there about proposed goals, including for a stand-alone goal for food and nutrition security.  As the Secretary-General has made clear this is a member state process and it is your decision, as members of the United Nations community, as to whether to support this stand-alone goal.  Now is the time to forge a consensus around the way forward.  Together, we are part of forging that consensus in support of the stand-alone goal.  In doing this, we must remember that we cannot leapfrog the responsibilities that we have committed ourselves to under the Millennium Development Goals that are still in place today.  To ensure that we are working to assist those countries that have not yet achieved the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by half, we are performing work to assist them.  That includes our continued participation with the United Nations High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis.  The high-level task force is now focused on the Zero Hunger Challenge and hopefully you saw, as you came in, a whiteboard that we had at the World Economic Forum.  In Davos, we dedicated our tent to achieving the Zero Hunger Challenge, and we received support from everyone who came into our tent in support of the challenge.  We now ask all of you to sign the Zero Hunger Challenge whiteboard dedicated to you.  Because we cannot wait for the sustainable development goals; we must continue the work now.

If we are going to achieve the results that we have committed this organization to, we must continue to create a results culture.  We must manage our resources appropriately, because strong performance management is critical to ensuring that we are managing results and that we are achieving what we set out to achieve. This work to enhance our performance management must be focused at the country level, where operations are performed.  We are committed to reporting on results and demonstrating evidence, to working in partnership with other humanitarian organizations and development actors.  We will make explicit the value of every investment that is made in WFP.  To this end, our comprehensive performance management system will be presented at the Annual Session of the Executive Board.

We will continue to refine and make relevant our financial architecture, because a revised financial architecture is essential to delivering on our priorities.  We will seek to build a more robust model for covering programme support and administrative costs.  A paper has been submitted for the Board’s consideration, and we seek the Board’s guidance in four policy and governance questions that will help us proceed on how we move forward to develop these models.

We must also provide the accountability and transparency, which is at the root of Fit for Purpose.  Accountability is about responsibility to people for our actions—the people that we serve and to all of our contributors.  Transparency requires that we provide visibility into how we spend our dollars and the outcomes achieved from those dollars.  Audit and investigation or evaluations are an essential part of the infrastructure that we need to achieve this goal.  At WFP we are setting the bar high, but we must set the bar higher to deliver the value that you are expecting.  We have professionalized our audit and investigations services, so that they will support and challenge WFP.  They are business partners, not policemen, and they are working with us to ensure that we are performing the work pursuant to the accountability standards that are required by our mandate.  This includes a three-year Strategic Plan, which will align the Office of the Inspector General’s function to the WFP Strategic Objectives.  By doing this, we can ensure that the quality, cost-effectiveness and oversight are directly aligned with, and related to, the work that we are performing in the Strategic Plan.   

We will not stop there.  We have also invited outsiders to perform an internal justice review of all of our systems inside WFP, and one of them said to me—you are a brave woman.  I do not think it is braveness; I think that it is realistic.  There is an expectation that we will have the best systems in place and we can only ensure that we have the best systems in place when those systems can withstand the scrutiny from not just our own evaluations but those of outsiders.

As we move forward, there is much more that I could talk about but I will not.  I must conclude.  I will conclude by saying hopefully what you heard from me this morning is our commitment to deliver on the promise.  You have heard this morning of our continuing efforts to deliver in a more strategic and more effective manner.  We know we need to deliver because the people we serve are depending on us to deliver.  From Bangladesh to Somalia, we know that people depend on us to deliver.  From those pictures that you saw of our staff performing the work in the Syrian Arab Republic, to the woman in the Central African Republic who told me she had to walk out of her door and pass over bodies in order to get to work at WFP.  She did this because she knew that if she did not, people in her country would not have food to eat and that it was her responsibility to serve them.  It is for them that we must deliver.  We also must deliver because the Board continues to believe in us.  You have supported us, you have given us the investment capital that is necessary to ensure that we can perform the work.    We can deliver, and we must deliver, and we have the confidence that we will deliver on our promises.

Thank you.