Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the Protection in Practice Book Launch

Delivered on: 20 February 2013


I welcome you to this official launch of our book, Protection in Practice:  Food Assistance with Safety and Dignity.

Your presence with us today recognizes the importance of this occasion. This event is about more than the publication of 10 chapters and 186 pages; it also heralds our collective commitment to the protection of crisis-affected populations.

WFP sincerely thanks the Government of Switzerland for their essential support in completing this book.  And in this context, I am pleased to recognize Mr. Manuel Bessler, Vice-Director of the Swiss Development Agency, who is co-launching the book with me. 

Switzerland has given unwavering support for the protection-related work of WFP and other UN agencies as well as the Red Cross Movement.

Swiss commitment to pursuing the core essence of humanitarianism is an inspiration for the international community.

I also would like to thank other donors, including Australia, Denmark, Sweden, and the United States, who over the years have consistently supported WFP in our efforts to translate protection principles into practical action on the ground.

After several years of thoughtful discussion in the Board and practice in the field, these efforts culminated with the approval of the WFP Humanitarian Protection Policy in February 2012.  The policy’s implementation is now well underway in several country offices spanning all WFP regional bureaus.  

For all of us at WFP, this book represents a renewed declaration of our sustained commitment to the protection of civilians, and most particularly, the people we serve.

Right now, WFP and the other deep-field humanitarian agencies are actively engaged in intricate, challenging and dangerous situations – in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Mali and other countries. 

As I wrote in the foreword to this book: 

It is clear that humanitarian organizations must ‘think protection’ in every facet of our work, from needs assessment and programme design to delivery mechanisms and training for frontline staff.

Food assistance is one of the most strategic and most valuable forms of assistance for crisis-affected populations.  It is a protective tool in itself, because people in dire need must survive first and foremost.

But we know that survival alone is not enough.  The food assistance WFP provides must in simple terms protect the physical security and protect the dignity of those we serve.  When we deliver assistance, we must always recognize our responsibility to do no harm.

This is what it means to provide protection. Without sufficient protection in communities seeking WFP assistance, we will not achieve meaningful food security or nutrition outcomes.

We at WFP will constantly refine and deepen our understanding by assessing root causes of risks and vulnerabilities in the places we work.  This understanding will help us identify how – in partnership with States, UN agencies, international organizations, NGOs and communities themselves – WFP can become part of the solution. 

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy for integrating protection into daily humanitarian assistance operations.

We need a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of conflicts and crises to properly calibrate WFP assistance.  Only through collaboration with stakeholders can we determine the most effective and durable response.

This book documents seven years of collaboration among WFP staff both past and present.  It provides honest, independent reflections on our strengths and limitations, including opportunities seized or missed, and helps identify a better way forward.

This book has demonstrated lessons we have learned about protection so that we can do it better in the future.

I know that this book will inspire WFP staff around the world, and also the staff of other agencies and organizations, increasing our awareness as a community of practical approaches for promoting the protection of crisis-affected populations.

In conclusion, I congratulate the team involved in the production of this book – from the field practitioners to the editors and contributors – for their openness to a balanced, intelligent and constructive assessment of WFP’s work in this area.

Thank you for your important collective contributions in making a positive difference in the lives of the people we serve.