Opening Remarks by World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin at the First Regular Session of the WFP Executive Board 2016

Delivered on: 08 February 2016

Check Against Delivery

Thank you, Madam President.

Thank you, to the outgoing President Sam Beever.

Excellencies, welcome, to this first 2016 Board session, particularly, to those of you who travelled here from your capitals.

Welcome and Happy Chinese New Year!

I am honored to offer special greetings and recognition to our distinguished guests:

His Excellency Mr. MWENCHA, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission;

Her Excellency Dr. DE COSTA SEMEDO, Minister of National Education, Guinea Bissau;

His Excellency Ambassador BADR, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Relations and International Security, Egypt;

Her Excellency Dr EL KABBAG, Assistant Minister for Social Solidarity, Egypt;

Her Excellency Dr. MURNININGTYAS, Deputy Minister of National Development Planning, Indonesia;

His Excellency Mr. RARA, Commissioner for Food Security, Mauritania; and

His Excellency Mr. JAFAROV, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection, Republic of Tajikistan.

And welcome to all other delegation members who have travelled from capitals to join us.

Finally, welcome to our guest speaker, long-time friend of the World Food Programme, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Dr. David Nabarro. There is no better speaker to begin our work together this year than David.  Why?

Excellencies, 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.  In September 2015, the 193 Member States committed to achieving a world of universal peace and prosperity, renewing the world’s social contract for a life free of fear and want, for everyone, everywhere, in just 15 years.

Agenda 2030 laid out an integrated and universal framework for achieving Zero Hunger, ending global poverty, attaining sustainable development, and restoring a life of dignity for all.

The world then gathered in Paris, where the world again committed. The Paris Agreement for the first time commits: rich countries, rising economies, together with the world’s poorest nations; to reduce carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement committed to slow global warming; committed to making the adaption investments; committed to putting the furthest behind first.

Ladies and Gentlemen, only with targeted multi-year concerted action, will we ensure hundreds of millions of people, those furthest behind, and those most susceptible to climate shocks and crisis, realize their promise; and we all achieve our shared goal of peace and prosperity.

We look forward to hearing from Dr. David Nabarro who has been tasked by the Secretary General to lead the UN’s action supporting Member States as we together move from all of these commitments to action.

No small task.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, as we assemble here today, violence and insecurity affect 1.5 billion people, roughly one-fifth of humanity.  Half of all the world’s children out of school live in conflict-affected places.  Potent natural disasters, mostly droughts, floods and storms, impact 100 million people each year.  Each day 800 million people endure hunger and 700 million people endure extreme poverty. And lack of social protection renders 70 percent of the world’s people at risk of falling through the cracks.

Ladies and gentlemen, when children tell us “the war has stolen my dreams.”  When young women tell us “I was taken from school and forced to marry.” When young men tell us “I would rather drown then live without hope.” And when parents tell us “if you cut our ration we will probably die.” We, in the World Food Programme, recognize we must focus our work and our efforts to meet lifesaving needs; and focus performing our work only where we bring a comparative advantage.  Where WFP’s strength and established abilities will best assist those we serve, their communities and their countries to achieve Agenda 2030.

We also know we must work better together partnering to achieve not just outputs; partnering effectively to deliver real results and outcomes.  Meeting the short-term immediate needs as well as the longer term resilience-building needs for the people we serve.

There is much, in partnership, we can collectively do as local, national and international actors, to ensure we reach people furthest behind, and to create an enabling environment limiting the impact of conflict, fragility, and instability.

Ladies and gentlemen, the next step in our shared journey, the World Humanitarian Summit, or WHS, offers a once-in-a generation opportunity.  An opportunity to commit as a global community: member states, private sector, national and international organizations, representatives of affected communities and the UN.  All of us, together, will commit that we can and must do better to end conflict, alleviate suffering and to reduce risk and vulnerability.

In his report to the General Assembly regarding the WHS, One Humanity: Shared Responsibility

the Secretary-General notes:

“In 1941, amid brutal conflict and suffering, leaders came together at St. James Palace in London.  They recognized the need for a fundamental change in the way they collectively managed threats to international peace and security. Leaders committed themselves to international cooperation, peaceful solutions and a plan to end the scourge of war.

While the challenges of today may differ, I believe we are approaching a similar point in history. We must remember the promises we made and respect the rules we have agreed to.  We need to restore our global order and show those millions left behind in conflicts,

in chronic need and in constant fear, the solidarity they deserve and expect from us”

In his letter, the Secretary General goes on to say:

“… the World Humanitarian Summit presents an opportunity to affirm and renew our commitment to humanity and to the unity and cooperation needed to confront the challenges of our time effectively.

I ask global leaders to come to the World Humanitarian Summit prepared to assume their responsibilities for a new era in international relations; one in which safeguarding humanity and promoting human progress drives our decision-making and collective actions.”

As the World Food Programme Executive Director, I have been asked by many of you: what does WFP expect or want from the WHS?  We want what the world needs.

We look forward to participating and supporting a global commitment, so eloquently expressed by the Secretary General.  A global commitment to humanity and the humanitarian principles.

We see an opportunity to move beyond the recent oft-repeated rhetoric that humanitarian principles represent a western commitment or a north versus south perspective.

We need a global commitment to our shared collective responsibility, to and for each other’s wellbeing.  A commitment that embraces the requirement for humanitarian space and humanitarian access, regularly, to meet humanitarian needs.

Yes, we at WFP also consider the WHS as an opportunity to acknowledge the lifesaving work performed by so many in the some of the world’s toughest and most remote places.

Yes, we at WFP consider the WHS an opportunity to copper-fasten ten years of humanitarian reform, and to solidify the huge steps we’ve taken forward improving how we work, not only to ensure humanitarian action is sufficiently agile, people-focused, and locally-driven for collective outcomes; but to also provide an opportunity for government, member state, donor, agency and non-government actors to pull together and overcome the structural impediments maintaining the humanitarian-development divide and to once-and-for all enable: prevention rather than response self-reliance rather than dependency; reinforcement rather than substitution; and collaboration rather than fragmentation.

Excellencies, we at WFP expect the WHS will call on all actors to better-deliver agreed outcomes; based on complementary and identified comparative advantages and strengths regardless of mandates among actors, whether local, national or international, public or private; humanitarian or development.

Encouraging, supporting and funding service by those with the comparative advantage or acknowledging strengths of different actors offers a concrete pathway to better serve people, communities and member states.

In the World Food Programme, while we possess global institutional and operational strengths, as well in-situ, in-country strengths and experienced operational capacity, we also recognize that it is only when we work in partnership we achieve collective outcomes.

Our recent work in Ebola-affected West Africa, fulfilling a promise to support the system-wide pandemic response, stands as a powerful testament to our significant ability to backstop local, national and international logistics and supply chain efforts, while successfully performing our food assistance activities.

There is also much the World Food Programme and our partners can offer to empower and enable national capacity, particularly in conflict and fragile contexts.

Such as:

  • Our deep field access and the connection this brings with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people;
  • Our capacity to work at scale, for example as the largest provider of cash-based programming in the UN space;
  • Our role as a platform anchor, for example providing air, logistics, telecommunications and procurement services;
  • Our distinctive convening power, bringing the public and private sector together, for example: our work around the Patient Procurement Platform;
  • Our expertise in partnership, recognizing local and national partners not only as the foundation of our work but also as the bedrock of efficiency and effectiveness—including our work with the private sector: an approach which has been acknowledged as “best in class” in successive peer reviews;
  • Our ability to respond to changing needs quickly, navigating the humanitarian development divide, to do what national governments and people want before, during and after crisis; and
  • Of course, our 14,000 staff, who often serve in the most difficult locations, and whose dedication, speed and innovation, enable this World Food Programme to get better, and more efficient day-by-day.

WFP offers unique value and strengths working in partnership, including with our sister agencies: OCHA, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF WHO as well as Rome-Based FAO and IFAD.

Excellencies, we attach great importance to the world summit, because we know humanitarian reform is not an abstract exercise of navel gazing or redrawing mandates.

The WHS provides an opportunity to generate the collective global public will required for our shared humanity; to support the requisite fully funded collaborative action; delivered by local, national or international public or private actors who will collectively provide the outcomes; which must ensure we not only save lives but achieve the SDG Goals ensuring the opportunity of peace and prosperity for all.

WFP also welcomes the findings of the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing calling for strong political determination and financial support to ensure implementation of the actions required to prevent and resolve conflicts; reduce disaster risk and focus support on where it is needed most.

The Grand Bargain proposed by the panel also proposes systemic change in humanitarian-aid delivery, collaborative efficiency and effectiveness, and strengthening the role of national first responders; while emphasizing government donor responsibility to meet financial commitments.

Embracing the opportunity for new financial innovation and new private sector funding mechanisms; helping ensure we leave no one behind and reach the furthest behind first.

When we consider WFP’s current reality where the majority of resources goes to the top five programs, 90 percent of our contributions are earmarked, and just 11 percent of funding is multi-year, it is clear we must address humanitarian and WFP-specific funding mechanisms.  We must ensure the availability of adequate resources to meet all humanitarian needs.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, excellencies, at the 2016 regular session of the Board in November, we will present the new Strategic Plan, framing the organization for the future, outlining how we will operationalize our efforts supporting national leadership and SDG achievement at the country level.

This new Strategic Plan will build on the findings of the mid-term review, recognizing although we fulfilled our responsibilities in emergency response and preparedness, our ground-impact on longer term issues varies and is constrained by our current business model, including how we plan, budget and finance our country-level programs.

To overcome these structural constraints, we have developed an ambitious plan to not only link all corporate processes together but to give a single “line of sight” to strategy, programming, planning and budgeting and performance.

We look forward to rigorous consultation with the Board, and your counsel from a governance perspective, on how we can best bring together the: Strategic Plan; Country Strategic Planning Approach; and the Financial Framework Review to deliver outcome-focused results in every country where we serve.

With your support, we strive to become ever more Fit for Purpose, as we seek not only cost-excellence but ever more effective and efficient performance.

                                                                                                    * * *

Excellencies, as we build for the future, we continue to monitor and respond to real-time threats

to people’s food security and nutrition throughout the world.

Three particular threats rank high on our radar, warranting special attention in this opening session.

First, El Niño drought and weather-related stress triggering severe hunger and hardship with significant consequences for poor and vulnerable people until at least March 2017.

As previously discussed in this boardroom, this is no ordinary El Niño crisis. Analysts predict it may be the strongest ever on record.  El Niño is now fueling a major food security emergency threatening decades of hard won food and nutrition gains in parts of Latin America, Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Two weeks ago, together with the United Nations Secretary-General, I attended the Government of Ethiopia’s roundtable on El Niño.  Ethiopia is the hardest hit country.  This is not the challenge of the 1980s, because of the Ethiopian government’s decisiveness recognizing this extraordinary crisis and allocating 381 million dollars of domestic resources providing crucial support for 10.2 million people in need.  If the world collectively follows Ethiopia’s lead, and closes the 500 million dollar funding gap in the next four weeks, we can avert significant suffering and protect Ethiopia's remarkable development gains.

Southern Africa is now a major worry, enduring what may become the worst drought on record.  Although up to 40 million rural and urban people are likely to be impacted, those reliant on rain-fed agriculture and pastureland are severely affected, particularly in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa.

In West Africa, El Niño impacts parts of Chad, Ghana, and the Gulf of Guinea.

Further, the monsoon season across Southeast Asia is also severely influenced. Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Timor Leste are in the grip of severe drought.

And in Central America, over 4.1 million people are affected by a third consecutive year of drought, as well as the potential further disruption caused by La Nina and the economic impacts of the Zika virus outbreak.

Ladies and gentlemen, conflict is the second major threat.

All four of our Level Three emergencies are conflict induced. And in all four, lack of humanitarian access continues to devastate people’s food security and nutrition with life-threatening consequences, particularly for populations under siege.

As you are aware, I reported to the Security Council on the challenges we face in Syria meeting the needs of more than 4.5 million people trapped in besieged or hard to reach areas.  I raised WFP’s particular concern for close to half a million people living in 18 besieged areas completely cut off from food and other crucial humanitarian assistance.

I spoke of WFP’s inability to undertake air drops, because of the lack of air space security meeting the conditions for our aircraft to drop from the air, and the lack of presence by either our staff or partners to make preparations on the ground to ensure adequate and safe distribution of aid-dropped food to the most vulnerable.

I spoke of how despite some localized successes, we do not possess the regular access necessary

to reach everyone in need.  And of how physical and logistical challenges often pale in significance compared to: the numerous checkpoints, burdensome administrative procedures and lengthy negotiations necessary to get approvals.

I told the council that preventing starvation requires unimpeded and sustained access, humanitarian pauses and unconditional, monitored ceasefires to ensure appropriate delivery of urgent food and other aid.

Access is not just about Syria.

We require access in Iraq, where protracted insecurity, escalating conflict, and insufficient resources hinder our capacity to reach the 2.4 million food insecure people, including in Fallujah city, where we received reports of dire humanitarian needs.

Or in Yemen, an already forgotten war, where the already fragile situation is deteriorating fast, 10 districts are now classified at “emergency levels.” We currently reach 1.9 million of the 7.6 million people in need of food assistance.

As well as in South Sudan, where now protracted hostilities worsen conditions well-beyond conflict zones.  Our best-case scenario estimates 2.8 million people, almost a quarter of the population, face acute food and nutrition insecurity at harvest time, a situation which will worsen as the lean season draws close during the next three months.  I must warn the board, although assessments in Unity State were disrupted by fighting, evidence suggests conditions there may have reached catastrophic levels.

Yes, there is some good news related to our conflict response.  Last week’s London Conference resulted in an estimated 700 million dollars in new money for the WFP Syria country and refugee response.  WFP particularly thanks the German Government for the largest single pledge in WFP history. With these resources we will not only fully meet the emergency food assistance needs of the Syrian population but we will also partner with others to begin to bring more hope to the affected Syrian population.  For example, WFP will partner with UNICEF to launch a school meals safety net pilot to return Syrian children, targeting girls, back to school.  We will also partner with FAO, UNHCR and the Global Drylands Alliance on an agriculture project planned to create new livelihood opportunities and also provide more diverse food WFP School meals programs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the third major threat on our radar relates to the drop in global commodity prices.

The current lull in demand for raw materials and fuel particularly from China and emerging markets is affecting many exporting countries. We see rising unemployment, falling exchange rates and generally slower economic growth affecting food security in these export-dependent countries as well as those net import food dependent countries.

The WFP Regional Directors will provide full regional and country specific details around each of these issues later in this board.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, at my first Board meeting I committed to report on WFP’s progress addressing the gender issues at each board session.  I can report we remain sharply focused on gender, with the specific aim of improving our results where they matter most—the country level.

This year, we will decentralize key responsibilities for gender mainstreaming, from Headquarters to Regional Bureau and Country Offices an important step in transforming policy into concrete measurable outcomes in our programs.

In performing this work, we will expand the Gender Results Network to cover every single country office, ensuring the World Food Programme remains at the forefront supporting Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.

We look forward to the presentation later in this meeting on the Gender Action Plan.  WFP also looks forward to your presence at the RBA joint International Women’s Day celebration hosted this year March 8 here at WFP.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, I conclude channeling the words Martin Luther King who said:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.

We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history,

there "is" such a thing as being too late.

This is no time for apathy or complacency.

This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Ladies and gentlemen, last September, by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, the world not only recognized that tomorrow is today, but also that:

No prosperous and peaceful society can sustain the level of instability or inequality we see today;

No prosperous and peaceful society can fail so many children who must learn;

No prosperous and peaceful society can leave millions of people at the mercy of nature’s unforgiveness; and

No prosperous and peaceful society can leave millions behind and allow so many people to fall through the cracks.

Now is the time for us all; to embrace the fierce urgency of now; to confront those challenging problems, where there are no easy solutions, recognizing that we must restore the social contract; with the world’s people in need.

Recognizing the humanity of each of us; is judged by our humanity for the least of us.

Recognizing what it takes; we must commit and tell the world, that this board, this World Food Programme, will provide the leadership and vigorous positive action the world demands of us; until we deliver peace and prosperity for all of us.

Thank You.