Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the Hunger - Nutrition - Climate Justice Conference in Dublin

Delivered on: 15 April 2013


President Higgins, thank you for opening this conference for us.  To my fellow speakers and colleagues, and to all the distinguished guests here today, thank you for giving me and WFP this opportunity to greet you this morning.

As the first speaker from this podium who does not originate from this Emerald Isle, and as the head of one of the organizing partners for this event, I want to begin by expressing my sincere thanks to the Government of Ireland and to the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice for their hard work and determination in bringing us all together for this conversation.

Over these next two days we will speak a lot about partnerships, and it is often said that partnerships begin at home.  From the engagement and enthusiasm of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) staff that are here with me today – representing over 12,000 WFP workers in 80 countries – I know that our partnership with the Irish people in the global pursuit of a just society with food and nutrition for all has put down some mighty, mighty roots.  And those roots will grow into this conversation and the outcomes of the conversation over the next two days.

Most importantly, I want to join others who have spoken before me to express my appreciation and give a warm welcome to the over 100 women and men from civil society and national organizations participating in this landmark event.  Many of you are already working closely with WFP in your home countries, and others, we look forward to getting to know you better through these essential discussions.

These discussions are essential because we must listen to and connect with local voices.  We must ensure the voices of the poorest and most marginalized people are not just heard but also listened to and included in the dialogue and the outcomes.  Because participatory community-based planning is our best hope for managing the uncertainties of the future and constructing a pathway to a food secure, climate just, hunger-free equitable world.

But there can be no justice if people are allowed to go hungry or children to become malnourished; no justice at all if one-third of humanity is condemned to never achieve their full potential because we failed to provide pregnant and lactating women and their young children with nourishing food during the first 1,000 days.  There will be no justice if we fail our responsibility to properly manage the world’s resources in the face of a volatile and changing climate.

We recognize these linkages between justice, powerlessness and food insecurity all the time.  In 2012, WFP delivered food assistance to over 90 million people who in a world of abundance still do not have enough food to eat.

Why?  Because in the places where we work, as President Higgins stated, food is available in the market but poor families simply lack sufficient purchasing power to afford it. This is despite the fact that most of these families spend more than 70 percent of their income on food.  And for some families, food is not available at any price, either because of conflicts that disrupt markets or weather-related disasters that are the result of the changing climate affecting so many of the communities; particularly those in sub Saharan Africa that depend on rainfall for their harvest, and that rainfall does not come.  And when rain does finally arrive, it destroys farmland and limits road access and makes markets unavailable.

During these sessions we will have the opportunity to review and discuss many forward leading and practical solutions to address the combined challenges of hunger, nutrition and climate change.  These stories have an essential role in highlighting where we are getting things right.  It is our responsibility to not only hear the stories, but we must also take the lessons to the next level, scaling up the best and most effective ideas until we have reached everyone and reached the goal of a just, equitable and hunger-free world.

One year ago, when I took up the role as head of WFP, each daily briefing brought fresh and more disturbing details of the tragedy unfolding across Africa’s Sahel region. So, in my first month I traveled to Niger to witness firsthand the consequences of that complex crisis.

Another failed harvest – the third in less than ten years because of failed rains – had brought food shortages and high prices. These stresses were compounded by the loss of jobs in Libya, which meant no remittances for women and children left at home alone.

But the people I met in the local community inspired me with their determination in the face of imminent hunger. Working together were humanitarian aid workers, community leaders, government leaders, children, men and women:

•           Children staying in school because of increased school feeding programs;

•           Women succeeding against odds because cash for work and food for work programs allowed them to feed their families;

•           Communities working together as a part of food for assets programs, giving their all to assemble water conserving dams from rocks and sand so that they could build vegetable gardens between last year’s harvest and this year’s planting season that would mean, this year, they didn’t need to deplete their assets;

•           Humanitarian workers working with community leaders and community organizers to distribute nutritious foods to pregnant and lactating mothers and children under two.

All orchestrated by a national government with a plan.

Turning commitment into action requires this type of strong national leadership and political will to put in place policies for the benefit of the most vulnerable citizens.  But as Niger’s example illustrates, success also requires the engagement of people at the community level to drive bottom-up processes and raise local actions toward fulfilling a national plan for empowerment and hunger eradication.

People must be part of their own destiny.

So, in addition to the power of local community level action – as we heard at the conference recently concluded in Madrid on Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition in the Post-2015 Framework, and we were reminded again by Mary Robinson today – women are the secret weapon against hunger, the ultimate force multiplier in the fight against malnutrition.

When women have food, children eat.  When women are helped to grow food, communities eat.  And when women are decision-makers, nations have food and nutrition security.

And I fully agree with this position and I know you do too.  But I’m also sure that that’s not enough.  Because agreeing amongst each other that communities must be empowered, that their voices must be heard, that women must be empowered, is not enough.

Let the outcome of this conference be clearly heard, not just here, but around the world.

Let our voices help the world to recognize that a post-2015 agenda must prioritize food and nutrition security.  Let our voices help the world embrace the empowerment of women and local communities as essential pillars for achieving any post-2015 global agenda.

Let our voices create the public will that leads to justice, equity and opportunity, particularly for those who depend on us most because they suffer the most:  the poor, the malnourished children and their hungry mothers.

In this room we have the means and the power to make the difference, and shame on us if we don’t.

Thank you.