Opening Remarks by World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin on the Occasion of the Second Regular Session 2016

Delivered on: 14 November 2016

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Excellencies, I would like to join the President in welcoming you to this Second Regular Session of the 2016 Executive Board, especially those of you who have travelled here from your capitals for our meeting.

It is a pleasure to offer my greetings along with the President to our distinguished guests:

From Niger, His Excellency Dr Ouendeba Botorou, High Commissioner for the 3N Initiative;

And from the Syrian Arab Republic, His Excellency Louay Kharita, Deputy Minister of Local Administration.

I also wish to join the President in welcoming the new members of the Board and the new observers to the Board: welcome to the WFP family.

Our meeting takes place at a turning point in the World Food Programme’s history, and a potential turning point in our global history.  And not just because of the election result last Tuesday in the United States of America, our largest donor.

We are seeing unprecedented movement in the developing world’s population, with over 65 million people now on the move as refugees or as displaced persons. At the same time, in the developed world we are seeing a growing nationalism.

This is a time when large numbers of people in the developing world are seeking hope and opportunity elsewhere.  Simultaneously, there are those in the developed world who believe they are losing out from globalization and, as a result, are looking for more protection for themselves and their families.

Nonetheless, taxpayers will not completely turn away from helping the poor and the vulnerable, particularly during crises and conflict.  Previously when budgets have been tightened, WFP has continued to receive taxpayer support because we have demonstrated that we are efficient and can both deliver results and value for money. This is just as important for the future.


The consultations we have had over the last several months have been comprehensive, robust and frank.  But I cannot overstate the importance of this session for the future of this organization.

For many months now we have engaged in this conversation, and I hope the decisions you take this week will mark a bold and decisive first step in WFP’s journey of transformation, one that will enable us to meet the challenges of the future.

While the world has made progress on some of the greatest challenges facing humanity, there are still 795 million people who know the misery of hunger, 700 million people living in extreme poverty and 220 million people affected each year by natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

Our consultations have been robust, as I said, but they have also been rooted in our shared desire to ensure that WFP is optimally positioned to support progress towards the ambitious targets enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our predecessors at WFP, with this Board’s support, took the bold decisions that enabled WFP to build the strengths we are widely recognized for today: the ability to respond to emergencies anywhere in the world with scale and speed; the ability to procure and deliver assistance for the hungry, and when needed or requested, for other members of the humanitarian community.

So now is the time for this Board, with this management, to take the decisions and begin the work that will fuel the next stage of our journey towards helping to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.

The work that we have undertaken together in recent months regarding WFP’s strategy, governance and structures will critically impact our ability not only to save lives, but help change lives.  So I thank you all. I thank you all for approaching our dialogue in a spirit of constructive engagement and for taking considerable time to provide your insights, your wise counsel and your support.

We will discuss the Integrated Road Map later in this session - but let me recall for a moment what the IRM is all about. We are now in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The 2030 Agenda clearly conveys the global commitment made by Member States to end poverty, hunger and inequality.  It encompasses development and humanitarian activity, situated within the broader context of human progress and sustainable development, with a goal of achieving peace and prosperity for all. 

This agenda is ambitious in its reach, ambitious in the complexity of the challenges it confronts, and certainly ambitious in its 15-year timeframe. The goals require accelerated action, now, to end hunger and poverty by 2030.

Multi-stakeholder engagement and partnerships are crucial in this endeavour.  Achieving Agenda 2030 will also require financial as well as human capital; capturing every available synergy; leveraging what works; discarding what does not; and working with governments, donors, other agencies and actors, all doing their part. With your support, WFP management is prepared to undertake the complicated work to ensure we do our part, and play our mandated role.

In response to Agenda 2030’s call to leave no one behind, to reach the furthest behind first, WFP’s updated Strategic Plan centers on two concepts.

First, we explicitly align WFP’s activities around the 17 SDGs, but focusing mainly on two of those goals. SDG 2, supporting countries in working to achieve Zero Hunger. And SDG 17, partnering to support implementation of Agenda 2030.  Our reason for focusing on these two goals is to make clear WFP’s mission and mandate; to set out the role we will play in meeting the SDGs; and to highlight what people should expect from us going forward.

Second, we are fully aligning WFP’s work around government-led objectives, targets and efforts as part of the United Nations Development System, or UNDS.  The UNDS recognizes this moment as a window of opportunity and is taking practical measures to ensure we all do business differently. In future, the UNDS will primarily focus on achieving results at country level and promoting national ownership by governments.

So as part of this agenda, WFP is embarking on a new approach to our work and to country strategic planning. But let me clearly state that the Strategic Plan 2017–2021 goes to great lengths to underscore the importance and priority of WFP’s emergency and humanitarian work, while also outlining the organization’s development objectives and activities.  The Strategic Plan also makes clear that, working together, we must overcome the challenges of saving the same lives every year, every dry season, and begin helping to change lives by transcending the humanitarian development divide.

Country Strategic Plans, or CSPs, will operationalize the Strategic Plan in close collaboration with national governments and with the communities where we serve. CSPs provide a framework for cross-sectoral partnerships and a means of translating global aims into local action.  Multi-year strategic plans, based where appropriate on country-led strategic reviews involving all the relevant stakeholders, including the Rome-based agencies, will deliver a coherent portfolio of assistance reflecting national priorities.

The CSPs will articulate more clearly the relationship between the activities we undertake, the resources we deploy and the measurable outcomes we will work together to achieve.

The Financial Framework Review is integral in this respect, replacing the current project-based approach to funding with corporate portfolio budgets.  Indeed, I was told by one former Executive Director that the work on our Financial Framework has been a long time coming.  That as we move from food aid to food assistance, it is imperative we build the new financial architecture to support the transition.

The Financial Framework Review will allow WFP to provide more accurate and timely reporting information to the governments we serve as well as to our donors.  It will provide a clear line of sight between investments made, activities undertaken and outputs delivered, while delivering greater transparency on our costs to all stakeholders.

Our new Corporate Results Framework, or CRF, is the final element of the Integrated Road Map, clearly connecting resources to outcomes.  The CRF will enable WFP country offices to plan, implement, measure progress and report on their program, while assessing WFP’s global contributions towards achieving the SDGs.

Excellencies, during our dialogue on the Integrated Road Map, a consistent theme emerged: the need for closer collaboration between the Rome-based agencies.  We heard you - all of us heard you.  And the paper on RBA collaboration, drafted at the request of all three governing bodies, presents a shared vision of how FAO, IFAD and WFP will work together.  Appropriately harnessing our synergies to assist Member States in their efforts to achieve the SDGs.

The RBA paper is a strong foundation for renewed and better focused collaboration. It also outlines concrete actions for strengthening coordination at country, regional and global levels.

Let me note, for the record, that in 2015, WFP, FAO and IFAD jointly ran 26 projects in 21 countries.  WFP worked with FAO on a further 21 projects in 65 countries, and with IFAD on an additional 31 projects in 24 countries.

For example, in Guatemala the three agencies have worked with the Government on a resilience strategy for the country’s dry corridor, combining our complementary capabilities.  FAO supports agricultural production resilience, WFP provides food assistance to support the development of community assets, and IFAD supports adaptation and processing capacities in production.  All of us performing our mandated work and deploying our comparative advantages.  We will continue to work in this manner but in future we will do it even more.

I must also emphasize that we are equally committed to collaborating with all potential partners - governments, donors, NGOs, civil society, the private sector, faith-inspired organizations and, of course, our sister United Nations agencies. Indeed, we recognize that we will not achieve Zero Hunger without building these new networks, so we are investing heavily in improving partnerships across the board - as well as with the Rome-based agencies of course.

Excellencies, the Integrated Road Map is an opportunity to re-engineer WFP for the future, make it more efficient and transparent, and operationalize our commitment under the 2030 Agenda to fulfil our obligations to the people we serve.  You have received the favourable advice of the FAO Finance Committee as well as the ACABQ.  I am therefore hopeful that the Integrated Road Map will receive the Board’s approval when it is considered in detail later today.


In addition to these proposed changes, we are implementing a number of other initiatives to ensure that WFP lives within its means and is equipped with the right people, skills and tools to carry out its work.

But before I talk about those activities, let me first say a few words about our 2017 Management Plan, which will also come before you for approval.  We foresee 2016 reaching a record level of contributions, at USD 5.6 billion, and we are grateful to all our donors for your outstanding support.  For 2017 to 2019, in line with strong indications from donors, we forecast contributions in excess of USD 5 billion per year for each of those years. As a result, our provisional prioritized plan of work for 2017 totals USD 5.4 billion, allowing WFP to provide 16.5 billion rations to 68 million people.

You may ask why we are serving fewer people.  The reality is that we are serving more food to fewer people for a longer period of time.  Crises are becoming more protracted and consequently we are serving the same population for longer.  These numbers reflect the state of the world and the more protracted nature of the WFP response.

In the Management Plan, we are proposing a limited increase in the PSA budget of 3.4 percent, or USD 10 million, to bring the total PSA budget to USD 300.3 million.  We also propose to use USD 35.1 million of the PSA budget funding for country-level centralized operational indirect support costs - moving more of the indirect support costs to the corporate indirect support cost budget, which is where it belongs.

This will free up existing direct support costs at the country level, enough either to provide support for 500,000 additional people per year, or to reduce the cost of country program operations.  Over the longer term, we will look for more opportunities to move indirect support costs at country level into this budget.  So over the longer term, management will seek to reduce more of the country-level direct support costs.

We are doing this because the new Integrated Road Map allows more visibility on the investments made and the actual costs associated with the results delivered.  As good stewards, we must ensure that we are making every effort possible to reduce the costs of the services we provide.

Finally, WFP is proposing a transfer of USD 15 million from the PSA Equalization Account to the Immediate Response Account in recognition of the growing demand for addressing pipeline issues and other operational financial shortfalls in our emergency and humanitarian operations. Strengthening our ability to ensure that we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable during the most critical periods.

Living within our means and ensuring that every dollar possible is spent on the people we serve will remain at the heart of WFP’s operating model.  That is why we look for every possible opportunity to cut costs and increase efficiency.  I have reported to this Board previously on the work performed as part of our Cost Excellence initiative.  As you will recall, we did not find the numbers compelling enough to support a move to a shared service centre.  We have therefore shifted the focus of our work towards an ambitious transformation in our processes across selected areas of our business, seeking ever greater operational efficiency both here at Headquarters and out in the field.

This latest phase has focused on identifying the scope for optimizing processes in five functional areas: human resources, management services, finance, IT and supply chain - and we intend to move forward on other fronts as well.

Let me give some examples of the work now planned.  Finance will significantly change the way a number of payments are handled at country level by developing a global payment factory based on a digitized payment system.  This will reduce the operational burden on country offices, strengthen our internal controls and reduce costs overall.

In management services, we are introducing a new self-service travel system, allowing staff to search and book travel, obtain necessary security clearances and process invoices online.  Migrating this work online will reduce required staff time and costs.  We estimate savings from just this initiative alone of around USD 700,000 per year.

We will also introduce global travel policies which will save over USD 1 million per year, including a preferred hotel program which we expect will save at least USD 900,000 per year.  In addition, we are having discussions with FAO and IFAD on how we can work together on a joint preferred hotel program, in the same way that we already have a preferred airline program between the three agencies.

Furthermore, we will transform our light vehicle and asset management procedures, which will make these procedures more cost-effective and help release resources at the country level.

And Human Resources has expanded the use of technology to automate a range of manual processes, enabling employees to enter their information directly into the system.  This has led to efficiency gains in terms of overall WFP staff time while also reducing the number of HR staff hours required to process transactional work.

The IT Division is changing the way it offers services to the organization.  It has initiated the process of decommissioning and repurposing legacy IT systems, ensuring that only those fit for purpose are retained.  IT will also save millions of dollars annually by migrating WFP IT from servers to cloud-based systems.

Our preliminary analysis of all these work streams suggests that by investing approximately USD 3.4 million in 2017, we will generate cashable savings of approximately USD 6.2 million in 2017 and another USD 19.2 million from 2018.  This in addition to overall WFP staff and time savings equivalent to as much as USD 7.5 million in 2017 and USD 12 million in 2018.  Any additional expenditure required will of course come before the Board for approval at its First Regular Session in 2017.

Alongside efforts to manage our costs, we are also preparing for the future by investing in our work force with our People Strategy.  We have revamped our performance management framework and our underperformance policies to give them a stronger focus and to better manage the performance of all of our associates.  Categories of employees not previously covered are now included and we have a 97 percent completion level for all performance management assessments.

In addition, we are offering all our staff learning opportunities through an enhanced web-based learning system.  Almost 7,000 national staff have completed training programs in 2016, including 3,000 staff who were trained in cash-based transfers, a key priority for WFP.

We have also strengthened our ability to reach and recruit talented people anywhere in the world, with the launch of our first ever global web-based recruitment system.  This significantly improves our ability to staff up emergency operations, quickly and effectively.

And finally we continue to make progress with our people program in drawing our staff from more diverse pools of talent.  For example, this year, as of September, 53 percent of our new fixed-term international appointments were women.  This builds on our success in 2015, when we achieved a proportion of more than 50 percent for the first time.

One such appointment will come before the Board for approval during this session. Following a rigorous selection process, I ask the Board to approve the appointment of Ms Andrea Cook as WFP’s new Director of Evaluation for a single term of six years.  Ms Cook has extensive experience and is currently Director of the Evaluation Office of the United Nations Population Fund.  Our current Director of Evaluation, Helen Wedgwood, will leave WFP in January 2017 and I would like to thank Ms Wedgwood for her outstanding work.


We must never lose sight of the why behind these continuous efforts to reform, realign and make WFP an ever more efficient operator.  The why remains and must always be better and more effective service to the people and the communities where we work.  A WFP ever better prepared for the challenges of the future, as we continue responding to the multiple threats jeopardizing the food security and nutrition of millions of people today.

Right now, five of our six Level 3 emergencies - South Sudan, Yemen, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Nigeria - are driven by conflict and the devastating consequences of conflict.  As a result, the sixth Level 3 emergency, the Southern Africa El Niño drought, receives far less attention and support than that required to meet the life and livelihood challenges it has created.

Let me briefly update you on each emergency, beginning with the Syrian Arab Republic. More than five years into this crisis, its magnitude continues to increase and lack of access continues to thwart our efforts to reach those trapped in besieged areas.  Estimates suggest that almost 5.5 million people live in areas of the Syrian Arab Republic which are subject to movement restrictions or entirely cut off.  In these areas, more than half of the population is facing food insecurity or severe hunger.  This includes an estimated 861,000 people living in 18 besieged locations in Aleppo, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Homs, Idlib and the Idlib governorates.

To date in 2016, thanks to strong donor support and the valiant efforts of our colleagues in WFP and other humanitarian agencies, we have managed to reach over 1.3 million people in these besieged areas. This is a significant improvement on 2015, but the sobering reality is that over three-quarters of the population in these areas have received little or no formal humanitarian assistance.

In eastern Aleppo city, completely cut off since early July, 275,000 people are unable to get out, even for medical treatment. WFP prepositioned one month’s worth of food supplies in late July. Since then, we have been forced to reduce by half the rations and only distribute them to the most vulnerable groups, including women and children.

Despite the challenges in Aleppo, WFP served 95,000 people in October. But we cannot get into eastern Aleppo to replenish those vital stocks, and we learned on Friday that food and water from all sources are now reported as running at critically low levels.

As I have said before, we require unimpeded and sustained access with unconditional monitored ceasefires to ensure safe delivery of food and other urgent aid, in order for us to assist the civilian population.

And this is true, not just in the Syrian Arab Republic, but also in other conflict areas.  In Iraq, where the Mosul offensive is now underway, we anticipate that up to 1 million people will require assistance in the coming months.  Since the beginning of the offensive we have provided food assistance to some 60,000 people fleeing Mosul and the surrounding areas and we have stockpiled supplies to meet anticipated growing demand.  If and when Mosul is retaken we expect to find serious social protection issues in the city.  We have the resources to assist. But we require access to ensure that we can assist as needed.

In Yemen, meanwhile, we are witnessing nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, as a largely forgotten war aggravates the already dire food security crisis. Institutions providing basic services are collapsing and the situation is spiralling out of control.  Over 80 percent of the population, 21.2 million people, now require humanitarian assistance and 7 million face food insecurity. Nutrition support is required for 3 million women and children.  The pictures of starving children from Houdieda shocked even the most seasoned humanitarians.

WFP aims to scale up its response to reach 7 million people by the end of 2016 inside Yemen, 1 million from the commodity voucher scheme and 6 million from the general food distribution, where we will serve 3 million people each month on a bi-monthly basis.  It is now imperative that we provide full food rations to those people in need.

And in South Sudan, two and a half years of fighting, coupled with an economic crisis and hyperinflation, has led to deepening food insecurity and spreading violence and unrest. Fighting in the Equatoria region, traditionally the bread basket of the country, threatens food supplies even further. Violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide, has been reported by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Meanwhile, humanitarian space continues to shrink as access is made more difficult by armed groups.  Nevertheless, WFP and the humanitarian community plan to scale up our activities and reach 3.25 million people with emergency food assistance in 2016 and 2017.

But even as we are working to meet the needs of the people inside South Sudan, the number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries is growing and has now topped one million.  Uganda is under particular pressure. In recent months it has taken in more than 300,000 people fleeing the conflict in Equatoria.  Uganda now hosts the largest refugee population in all of Africa.

While we are responding to the crises that I have just highlighted, we are also ramping up our response in northeast Nigeria – affected by Boko Haram - to stop the situation there from deteriorating even further. WFP aims to reach 1.3 million people providing a range of assistance including cash transfers, vouchers and a general food distribution. We are working alongside the Nigerian Government and together we are working to scale up ever faster, ever more effectively, to address the critical conditions found in the newly liberated areas.

Alongside these conflicts, extreme weather events continue to represent a major cause of food insecurity for millions around the globe.  As noted earlier, while the attention of the world has turned elsewhere, the effects of the El Niño-induced drought are still building across southern Africa - in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia.

As the height of the lean season approaches in the region, the window of opportunity for assisting vulnerable people is closing, because the lean season is the same time as the planting season.  We urgently require USD 338 million, and without contributions, it will prove extremely difficult to deliver food or cash transfers before stocks are depleted. Our partner, FAO, also maintains a significant financial shortfall, limiting our ability to implement the joint plans that WFP and FAO crafted together to address the challenges of this lean season, and to work together during the planting season.

But despite this challenging resourcing picture, we reached 4.9 million people in seven countries across the region in September, and we intend to scale up to each 13 million people with our overall portfolio of assistance by January 2017, the height of the lean season.  However, our capacity to feed them all with full rations is directly related to the amount of resources that we raise.

Off the coast of Southern Africa, in Madagascar, I saw for myself in early October the devastating effects of three years without rain in the south of the country.  The situation there, where many people have neither food nor income, is pushing hundreds of thousands of people close to the edge of disaster.  The budget revision we are presenting to the Board this week will enable us to substantially expand our relief effort from 82,500 to a million people by January 1, but only if we receive the resources required.

Elsewhere, in Haiti and Cuba we have seen the destruction that weather-related events cause. Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people in need of food assistance in Haiti, of which 806,000 require urgent assistance.  WFP has already reached 400,000 so far and we are scaling up our response. Unfortunately, again, we still need USD 40 million to provide life-saving support to all those who require our urgent assistance.  I know some of you may grow weary of hearing about the challenges of the Haitian people, but I can tell you, having visited Haiti three times during my tenure as Executive Director, that the proud Haitian people themselves, those we serve, suffer ever more from the unrelenting challenges wreaked upon them.  So we cannot turn away.  We must not turn away.

There are, of course, other hot spots around the world where food security is under pressure and WFP closely monitors these regions.  We are ready to respond and scale up our operations whenever necessary, wherever people are in need.


Alongside our important work responding to emergencies and helping those in need, we are resolutely focused on working with partners to help find and implement longer-term solutions that increase opportunities for resilience and self-reliance for the people we serve.

We know that gender equity is required to help build community resilience and self-reliance, and to create durable solutions.  Gender inequality exacerbates food insecurity.  That is why I committed at my first Board, back in 2012, to making gender a priority for WFP and mainstreaming gender equity in WFP programs.

It is also why gender equity is a core part of our new Strategic Plan.  And we are implementing a gender transformation program, supporting country offices to take practical steps which will integrate gender across programming, operations and management.

We have also conducted an organization-wide assessment of the gender-related learning needs and interests of our staff.  We used the results of this survey and this assessment to produce a gender capacity development plan.  We at WFP know we still have a long way to go, but achieving gender equity remains at the heart of all of our work.

Our commitment to innovation is equally strong, because we know innovation breakthroughs are required to spur progress towards reaching zero hunger and the other SDGs by 2030.

Our innovation accelerator in Munich, Germany, provides a fast-paced and creative environment where social entrepreneurs and WFP teams can design, test and scale up solutions.  Our innovations team have the freedom to experiment and even the freedom to fail.  WFP is actively scaling up its efforts to engage external entrepreneurs and start-ups and we will launch a global call for ideas and solutions in early 2017.

We lay similar emphasis on innovation in our programs.  For example, WFP has led in its use of cash-based transfers. You may be surprised to know we are now the largest cash actor in the humanitarian sector, providing USD 600 million to 9 million people in 54 countries this year alone.  We have come a long way in a short time, and in doing so we have helped millions of households connect to financial services for the first time, opening bank accounts and e-wallets and accessing services including mobile money and card services.  WFP is also working with UNHCR and UNICEF to foster interoperability across our cash-based transfer systems.

By laying the foundations for faster progress towards the SDGs in 2016, developing new tools and refining existing tools, we will ensure WFP is positioned to seize the opportunities that arise in 2017 and beyond.  The opportunities that will enable us to more effectively help those we serve.

Next year also marks a year of change.  The United Nations will have a new Secretary-General. I had the opportunity to meet with António Guterres last week in New York and we discussed his priorities, including his commitment to gender parity in all of his staff appointments. He made clear that he wants to see gender parity across the senior teams of all of the agencies, funds and programmes as well as the Office in New York.

Secretary-General designate Guterres noted that he plans no structural changes in the funds, agencies and programmes, but he will pursue operational change.  He will demand more flexible, more nimble and more effective operational performance from UN agencies, funds and programmes - ensuring we work better together.

Excellencies, if this Board approves our plans, 2017 will also mark the year that WFP begins to implement the Integrated Road Map, launching 16 pilot Country Strategic Plans throughout the year.  These plans will make WFP ever more nimble and responsive and I will speak more about how we will implement them during our CSP discussion.

We will also see the launch of WFP’s new urban policy next year, which is currently under development and scheduled for presentation to the Board in June.


In conclusion, let me assure you that WFP will continue to strive to serve the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people in emergency and humanitarian situations.  But as I said at the beginning of my remarks, we are at a turning point, one where the decisions taken over the course of this week will determine the direction, performance and capacity of this organization for years to come.  A turning point which requires us all to show bold leadership and chart an ambitious course for the future.

There is a wise African proverb that says “If you want to travel fast, you travel alone. If you want to go far, you travel together.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are a once in a generation chance for all of us to come together, to journey together, towards our shared destination.  A world where no one has to endure the misery of hunger and poverty, anywhere.  Where hope and opportunity become a reality for everyone, everywhere, whether in a developing or in a developed country.

So I urge you to equip WFP with the tools to perform the work required, each and every day, to lay a pathway that will enable us to help reach zero hunger by 2030.  A pathway that enables tough people living in vulnerable places to not only have food today, but hope and opportunity to feed themselves tomorrow.  Because the people we serve deserve nothing less.

Plato said: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” With your support, your approval, now let us, together, begin.