Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the Italian Development Cooperation Forum 2012, Milan, Italy

Delivered on: 02 October 2012


I am honored to join you here today to witness the resurgence of a new kind of international cooperation, new energy for life ; an energy borne of people power and smart thinking.

I am so pleased to be speaking alongside two leaders who inspire us to do something different:  José Galvez of Impresa Etnica, whose group is disassembling the walls of misunderstanding among Italians of different origins, and Giuseppe Sala, whose team is organizing Expo 2015, which, in mere 941 days from today, will unite the world in a six-month celebration of global solidarity and shared goals.

I was invited here by Minister Riccardi to participate in this conversation and to talk with you about the important role of the Italian people in feeding our planet and saving lives.

It’s a role that dates back at least to the beginning of the last century, when an immigrant American named David Lubin proposed the idea to create an international agricultural congress.  That idea put down roots in Italian soil.  The International Institute of Agriculture opened for business in 1908, and in 1945, following two world wars, transferred its mandate to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, otherwise known by many of you as La Fao.  From FAO, two UN agencies with associated mandates were also established, my own World Food Programme, WFP, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, known as IFAD.  Together we are the three UN Rome-based Agencies, the UN’s multilateral leaders for international cooperation in agricultural policy and development, and for bringing food assistance and hope to the world’s hungry poor.

The UN Rome-based Agencies are proudly made in Italy.  We rely on the continuing engagement of the Italian people in building and nurturing this precious legacy of global leadership in the field of agriculture, food and sustainable human development.  And we know that the UN’s partnership with the Government of Italy and with Italian civil society draws its strength from the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Italian people.

Let me give you a few important examples.

In 2000, WFP established the first UN Humanitarian Response Depot (or UNHRD) in Brindisi on land formerly used for military purposes. UNHRD emerged from an intense dialogue between WFP and the Italian Cooperation.   Five years later, WFP began replicating Brindisi’s example by establishing four more hubs in strategic locations around world:  in Panama City (Panama), Accra (Ghana), Dubai (UAE) and Subang (Malaysia).  And in July I co-signed an agreement with the Government of Spain for the opening of a new antenna depot at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

The UNHRD Network has grown into a global emergency preparedness and response tool supporting strategic stockpiling for over fifty UN, international, governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Nine UN, international and regional organizations are involved.

The network includes governmental organizations such as Italian Cooperation, Italian Civil Protection, Irish Aid, Argentina’s Cascos Blancos, and the international cooperation agencies of Switzerland, Korea and Japan.  Italian NGOs CESVI and INTERSOS are members, as are many other leading humanitarian organizations, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Organization for Migration, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Mercy Malaysia, and CARE International.
Together, we have pre-positioned for immediate access US$85 million worth of relief items and equipment across the world.  In 2011, alone, UNHRD’s business volume reached US$28 million.
Our relationship with Italy for the use of and support to UNHRD is covered by a Letter of Understanding signed in 2003. This agreement is under review to incorporate, within the Brindisi depot, additional space at the former United States Air Force Base at San Vito dei Normanni, which has been made available to us by the Italian Government in the framework of an expansion plan.  The plan includes a Centre of Excellence for emergency and logistics training.  This revised agreement will also enable the Italian Government to use the entire UNHRD network.

We are proud to see strong support for UNHRD Brindisi in the summary documents produced by one of this forum’s working groups.  Your recommendations confirm that UNHRD is more than a network of humanitarian depots, or a simple logistics platform; it is rather an essential part of emergency preparedness and response efforts.  We encourage the Italian humanitarian community to use the entire UNHRD Network in your operations.

Relative to humanitarian operations, our relationship with Italian Civil Protection – Italy’s disaster management organization – has grown stronger in recent years.  Their expertise in satellite mapping, volcanology and earthquake monitoring is increasing our technical and scientific capacity in the preparedness and response phases of emergencies caused by natural disasters.  In 2007, WFP and Italian Civil Protection agreed to develop methodologies and tools supporting emergency response efforts to better quantify potentially affected populations and infrastructures.

During the 2006 Lebanon crisis, great teamwork between WFP, Italian Civil Protection, and Italy’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense enabled a shipment of important safety equipment to be proposed, planned and dispatched to the emergency area aboard an Italian military vessel in the space of a single night.

Support from Italian Civil Protection was also crucial during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  Responding immediately to a phone call from WFP staff, Italian Civil Protection mobilized 20 metric tons of ready-to-eat rations. Working together we were able to quickly reach the  Haitian earthquake affected populations long before the more formal request process – another great example of synergy between civil protection and humanitarian action…making things happen for the benefit of  the people in need.

Our partnership even reaches above the planet, where satellite images provided by the Italian Space Agency supported WFP relief operations during the 2010 Pakistan floods.   ITHACA – a non-profit association between the Polytechnic University of Turin and the Higher Institute on Territorial Systems for Innovation – used these images to produce maps showing areas where floodwaters were receding more quickly than elsewhere.  As a result, humanitarian workers on the ground knew which villages would soon become accessible by land, enabling diversion of costly helicopters to critical areas where air support was the only way to reach desperate people.

In late 2010, a joint team from ITHACA and WFP's Emergency Preparedness Branch traveled to Myanmar to train WFP staff, government experts and NGOs in advanced remote sensing techniques and rapid response mapping.  Following the training courses, local capacity was boosted to the level where local decision makers could be quickly provided with operational planning maps. This level of local capacity did not exist in Mynamar in May 2008 when Cyclone Nargis killed 138,000 people and detrimentally affected approximately 1.5 million people.  Capacity building exercises like this will help save lives and can help mitigate the human impact of future emergencies.

These examples showcase the proud partnerships we are building to apply Italian rapid response capabilities and high-technology in support of stronger and more effective multilateral cooperation.

WFP partnerships also extend to non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

NGOs are extremely important for the work of WFP.  In 2011, we collaborated with over 2,100 NGOs worldwide and 30 partners from within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  Combined, these partners distributed nearly 1.9 million metric tons of food assistance representing half of WFP total food distribution for that year.  During this period, our field offices operationally collaborated with 17 Italian NGOs.

We are also working closely with our Italian Committee, WFP Italia, exploring collaborative strategies with a wide range of Italian corporations and institutions to enhance awareness and fundraising activities in Italy in support of WFP projects worldwide. WFP is developing significant initiatives with the Italian private sector, including with important companies such as Enel, Poste Italiane, and Eni.

We are also committed to supporting Expo 2015, a unique opportunity for the UN and Italy to showcase before the entire world multilateral approaches to address the global challenges of ensuring food and nutrition security for seven billion people.

In October 2011, the UN formalized our commitment and selected FAO as the focal point.  FAO will coordinate the participation across the UN system in collaboration with the other Rome-based Agencies, including of course…WFP.

Unlike previous Expos, the UN System will not host a pavilion.  Instead, we are making an early strategic engagement to support horizontal involvement throughout the entire expo. This is an exciting opportunity to tell the world about the issues of agriculture development, food security and nutrition using multimedia tools.  As we’ve discussed the expo visitors will receive information regarding our work regardless of their location.  These innovative ideas will hopefully not only educate but generate more interest and support for our issues.

As a member of the UN family WFP also welcomes the careful attention several of your working groups have given in preparation for this forum to the need for investments in disaster risk reduction.  Designing better strategies for building smarter and more resilient communities was a key theme of the recent meetings I attended last week of the Clinton Global initiative in New York where speaker after speaker highlighted the importance of fact based design in achieving program outcomes as opposed to template solutions or solutions drafted in Washington or even in Rome for solving problems in communities on the other side of the world.

For example, at WFP we are deeply engaged in efforts to ensure healthy nutrition for children and mothers during the first 1,000 days from conception until age two.  During this critical window that science reveals to be essential in protecting children from death and disease, and equipping them with a proper foundation for a healthy and productive life. We recognize that while we can develop tools in Rome, the actual plans must be designed at country level to ensure sustainability and program durability.

We also applaud your investigations into the growing relevance of decentralized cooperation, how sub-national players can be better engaged as full partners in the dialogue of international cooperation.   We know that sub-national players have an important role in adding value and ensuring a more deep-felt and participatory ownership of countries’ development agendas.  Italy has a privileged position in this field given your history and multi-faceted approach.

Finally, we admire and appreciate the restored dialogue you are building for enacting a new law governing Italian Cooperation; and, your efforts   highlighting the need to support that improved legal framework with the necessary resources for accomplishing agreed national objectives will solidify Italy’s place as a global development leader.

We must continue working together to ensure the Made in Italy label remains permanently sewn on the fabric of international cooperation and multilateralism.

Today, the United Nations with a renewed sense of confidence, looks to the Rome based agencies to lead this world towards achieving our, global objective, the unfolding the s roadmap for feeding the planet; a technical design to bring more energy for life, build hope and international cooperation, and advance all of us toward the ultimate goal of ending hunger in our life time.

2015 provides us with the opportunity to tell the story…so no small challenges...From now through May 2015, we must seize this opportunity because working together we change the world.

Thank you.