Press Releases

    5 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 4 April (UN Headquarters) -- The World Food Programme (WFP) had essentially put an end to major famines despite the rising tide of emergencies, both natural and man-made, in the last decade, its Executive Director, Catherine Bertini, told the Security Council this morning. Ms. Bertini was briefing Council members on food aid in the context of conflict settlement, particularly in Afghanistan and other crisis areas.

    Addressing the Council on the last day of her 10-year tenure as Executive Director of the global aid Programme, Ms. Bertini highlighted Afghanistan as the most recent example of how the international community had successfully prevented famine. The WFP now had early warning systems, information and transport technology, and a political commitment to ensure that "we never see famine again". Food aid kept people alive and helped reconstruct communities and stabilize countries and regions, but it was a "difficult and dangerous business". A look at the number of perpetrators of violence against aid workers compared to how few had been brought to justice was truly appalling.

    Moreover, the tide of humanitarian crises showed no sign of abating, she continued. A major food emergency was now unfolding in southern Africa, and the El Niño event predicted for 2002 might precipitate another destructive cycle of flood and drought. And there were still areas of the world where people were cut off from food, such as in the rebel-held sections of Angola and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But where people could be reached, the Council, the United Nations and the international community could be proud that the world had finally and fully rejected starvation, she said.

    Responding to the briefing, Council members paid tribute to Ms. Bertini for her decade of successes in assisting populations in need. Ms. Bertini had given the WFP a voice and a face, they said, as she struggled to serve the food needs of countries that stood high on the Security Council’s agenda, often under shaky security situations. The representative of France commended the Programme's success in Afghanistan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Horn of Africa. Ms. Bertini's missions had left a lasting mark in the minds of millions of people throughout the world, he said.

    In the darkest days of Afghanistan, the fear of famine had been averted thanks to the WFP, said the representative of Singapore. Now the question was how the Programme would fit into the new Mission's integrated structure and whether the Council could do anything to facilitate that integration. Indeed, the WFP had operated in most, if not all, of the conflict areas dealt with by the Council. Often, it launched operations before the international community was able to grapple with the situation, and stayed long after the media’s short attention span shifted away.

    The representative of the United Kingdom hailed the WFP's magnificent response to the dramatic increase in the scale and complexity of aid operations. At the same time, he cautioned against using food aid outside acute situations. Food was critical in cases of conflict and beyond the immediate conflict stage, but it should also be recognized that food aid in conflict situations was highly sensitive and, if misused, could have a direct and immediate effect on the dynamics of violence. Systems should be put in place to minimize food-aid diversions, which could exacerbate inequalities in conflict and post-conflict societies where food was used as a resource transfer. Also, exit strategies should be defined.

    In Africa, where populations continued to suffer from hunger and the consequences of conflict and refugee flows, food aid and the physical protection of disaster victims were high priorities, the representative of Guinea said. The aid provided should take into account the food habits of the recipients. He would encourage the WFP to purchase local products, which would boost local production and cut down on delays. That would also generate additional revenue in terms of the communities’ recovery. At the same time, he urged security for humanitarian and other United Nations personnel.

    Ms. Bertini took the floor a second time to respond to comments and questions. Statements were also made by the representatives of Syria, Mexico, Colombia, Norway, Bulgaria, China, Mauritius, Ireland, United States, Cameroon and the Russian Federation.

    The meeting began at 11:40 a.m. and was suspended at 12:50 p.m. It resumed at 3:14 p.m. and ended at 4:02 p.m.


    The Security Council met this morning to take up the subject of food aid in the context of conflict settlement: Afghanistan and other crisis areas.

    Briefing by Executive Director, World Food Programme

    CATHERINE BERTINI, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that, over 10 years ago at the World Summit for Children, the governments of the world had agreed to many goals to be reached by the year 2000. One goal included a commitment to implement "measures to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and famine ... ". She believed that the international community had achieved one part of that goal: the eradication of famine. Hunger and malnutrition remained, and there would be localized, sometimes severe, shortages of food in the future. But the international community had put an end to major famines like the one that claimed millions of lives in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s.

    Afghanistan was the most recent example of how the international community had successfully prevented famine, she said. There were now early warning systems and a political commitment to prevent famine. Food aid had come to mean far more than just survival in emergencies. Food was one of the first needs in almost every humanitarian crisis, and played a major role in supporting people on the road to recovery. Food was often the largest single need after an emergency struck, and was the largest resource available from donors. Last year alone, the WFP had received nearly $1.7 billion in food aid donation for emergencies and protracted relief and recovery operations.

    The major challenge in Afghanistan was to move food into the country in the middle of a political and military conflict, she said. The WFP had achieved that. After decades of operating in the midst of civil war, it had been able to mobilize quickly. Even at the height of the bombing campaign, on average they had had 2,000 trucks of all sizes and shapes on the roads every day moving in and out of the country.

    "Have we reached each and every pocket where food is needed in Afghanistan?" she asked. Probably not, she said. As the Council met, the WFP had helicopters out ferrying staff who were trying to pinpoint the remaining vulnerable areas, many of which could not be reached by road. But the result of the collective effort was clear -- there was no famine in Afghanistan.

    In addition to saving lives, food aid contributed to recovery, she said. Food had great economic value in nations recovering from political or economic crisis. It was often preferred to cash, because hyperinflation or lack of markets made local currency less than desirable to poor, hungry families.

    One of the sure signs in any country that a conflict had ended, Ms. Bertini said, was when the schools opened and families felt safe enough to send their children there. Food aid helped. For example, schools were often built or rebuilt using food-for-work schemes. Food aid was also sometimes used as an incentive -- a means to get more girls to attend school or to recruit pregnant and lactating mothers to visit health centres. And food aid was especially useful when it was given to women, who usually carried the largest social burdens during and after conflicts.

    There were many success stories where food aid was used to help people rebuild after a conflict or a natural disaster, she said. Mozambique’s recovery was a prime example, where the WFP and others moved from humanitarian relief to reconstruction programmes. The WFP had also done so in Central America, Ethiopia and Eritrea and in East Timor, among others.

    Food aid did more than keep people alive and help with reconstruction, she said. It had helped stabilize countries and regions in severe crisis. She cited the situation of Somalia in 1992. Operation Restore Hope had succeeded in helping people to be fed -- as a result, the insecurity caused by the prospect of famine had been eliminated as an element in the political turmoil. She also noted the WFP’s work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which had helped place the country on a track towards better relations with United Nations agencies and, more importantly, with its neighbours and other govern- ments, many of which had recognized the country in the last two years. Afghanistan was another country where food aid had contributed to stability.

    Food aid kept people alive -- it helped communities reconstruct after a crisis, and it helped to bring regional stability, she said. There were still areas of the world where people were cut off from food --for example, the UNITA-held territories in Angola, parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 43 counties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to which the WFP had no access. However, wherever people could be reached, the international community could be proud that the world had finally come to the point where it would not accept that people starved.

    Reaching that point had not been easy, she said. The work of humanitarian agencies was often difficult and dangerous business. She then highlighted the dangers facing humanitarian staff and stressed that Member States must do more to ensure their security. The international community could not stand by as humanitarian workers lost their lives and no one was held accountable.

    The tide of humanitarian crises seen in the last decade showed no signs of abating, she said. Food aid would save millions of lives and would play a major role in supporting people on the road to recovery. Ultimately, food aid, and the humanitarian commitment of every person in the world, had ended famine on earth.

    Statements by Members

    JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France) paid tribute to Ms. Bertini as she had ended her 10-year sojourn as head of the WFP. In that time, she really transformed the Programme through her dynamism, personal commitment, generosity and managerial skills. The WFP managed annual volumes of $2 billion, which approached the volumes dealt with by the World Bank. That was a sign both of her success and of the needs of the world population. Indeed, Ms. Bertini had given the WFP a voice and a face. Hearing the list of countries where the WFP was working, he clearly understood that it was embracing those countries which stood high on the Council’s agenda.

    He commended the success of the programme in Afghanistan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Horn of Africa. Her missions there had left a lasting mark in the minds of millions of people throughout the world. On the issue of security of staff, that was an ongoing concern of the Council, which it would continue to address with determination and in cooperation with the Secretary-General. France unreservedly supported the WFP, as well as the two priorities of emergency assistance and aid for reconstruction and development. It also had unreserved support for the strategic outline she had recently described, in a kind of "hunger map" aimed at identifying food security strategies in order to better come to grips with crisis prevention. "Bravo, Ms. Bertini", he said.

    KISHORE MAHBUBANI (Singapore) said the WFP operated in most, if not all, of the conflict areas dealt with by the Council. Often, the WFP launched operations before the international community was able to grapple with the situation, and stayed long after the media’s short attention span shifted away. The WFP was an example of how cross-cutting issues like gender could be mainstreamed. The Programme, he noted, recognized both the vulnerable position of women and the unique and valuable role that women could play.

    The fear of famine in Afghanistan had been averted, thanks to the WFP, he said. Many challenges remained, however. The Council had recently adopted resolution 1401 (2002) establishing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). He asked how the WFP fit into the Mission’s integrated structure and whether there was anything the Council could do to help with that integration. He asked how the WFP would implement operative paragraph 4 of Council resolution 1401, which outlines the modalities for delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

    MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria) congratulated Ms. Bertini on her crowning achievements in the service of humanitarian assistance. He appreciated her tremendous efforts in fighting hunger and the consequences of natural disasters and conflict. The principle of refusing to allow anyone die from hunger was at the core of the organization’s humanitarian efforts. He also applauded the great services that she had provided in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to approximately 6 million people, as well as the assistance rendered in Afghanistan, particularly to women and girls. Cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was essential to that work.

    He said that one region suffering from hunger, owing to the inability of food aid to reach the area, was the occupied Palestinian territories. He called on the WFP to give great attention to that problem, as the people there had started to suffer from hunger and call for help. A hunger map aimed at identifying food-aid strategies was an important initiative that had his support.

    ROBERTA LAJOUS (Mexico) said her country recognized the important work performed by the WFP in more than 80 countries by providing emergency food aid and promoting long-term development. Mexico was a founding member of the WFP and had, as a member of the governing board, supported many of the board’s proposals. She attached great importance to the humanitarian assistance provided by United Nations agencies, and placed great emphasis on the provisions set out in General Assembly resolution 46/182.

    Humanitarian assistance should be granted within the context of full respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and at the request of the States in question, she said. States bore the paramount responsibility for coordinating and implementing the assistance provided.

    In armed conflict, food production was one of the most affected sectors, she said. Because of the dimensions of its tragedy, Afghanistan had turned itself into an example of the destructive capacity of man combined with natural disaster. It was also an example of the effective efforts of the United Nations agencies. To the difficult task of collecting foodstuffs was added the difficulty of distributing the food. She paid tribute to all who had participated in helping with that effort in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

    ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia) expressed his heartfelt thanks to Ms. Bertini and the WFP for their help to millions of people worldwide. He paid special tribute to the work done in Afghanistan to meet the pressing needs of its population. The WFP was one of the most effective and realistic responses of the Organization and gave it a "real face" for the neediest in the world. And it was judged by its results. He asked about donors’ concentration on short-term emergency food in Afghanistan in light of the long-term needs. He was aware of the security conditions in the country and the enormous presence of United Nations workers, and asked whether the presence of international military staff dressed in civilian clothes might confuse Afghans and put some humanitarian operations at risk. He also asked what lessons had been learned through interaction and dialogue with the non-State armed elements in Afghanistan and other conflict areas, with respect to ensuring access of aid workers to more vulnerable areas.

    OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said the Executive Director had reminded the Council that food aid could go beyond the role of feeding hungry populations. Not without its limitations, it could be seen in the context of meeting basic needs and helping in conflict prevention and peace-building.

    As was clear, food aid could contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The achievements of the WFP and other agencies there were impressive. However, a large number of people would still require food aid. Food aid was an important part of the transition. Large-scale investment was urgently needed in the agricultural sector. Funding was needed both in the short and long term. The donor community must live up to its commitments.

    STEWARD ELDON (United Kingdom) said that during Ms. Bertini’s tenure, the scale and complexity of aid operations had dramatically increased, and under her leadership the WFP had responded magnificently. He thanked the WFP and its many brave local Afghan employees for the crucial role they had played in Afghanistan. While he respected the general thrust of Ms. Bertini's thinking, he added that the organization should be very careful about using food aid outside acute situations, which should be examined on a case-by-case basis. It should also be clear that food aid was most important in cases of conflict and beyond the immediate conflict stage. Naturally, food aid would fit that requirement in many cases, but it should also be recognized that food aid in conflict situations was highly sensitive and, if misused, could have a direct and immediate effect on the dynamics of violence.

    Systems should, therefore, be put in place to minimize food-aid diversions, which could exacerbate inequalities in conflict and post-conflict societies where food was used as a resource transfer. Outside conflict, where the imperatives were much clearer, food aid must be used with the effect of local market- production incentives kept clearly in mind. Its use must be monitored carefully and thoroughly, like any other intervention, to ensure that it was the best solution. Provision of food aid must also have a clear exit strategy that defined when the food aid was done and what other strategies could next be employed. He was interested to know how the WFP would factor in those concerns in its programmes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    On security, he noted that 188 unsolved cases involving murder of United Nations workers was a "scandal". With respect to internal United Nations administration of security, it was important for all players to recognize that their various interests did not constitute a zero-sum game. The Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator had an important coordinating role, and his country had "put its money where its mouth is" in supporting that role. But the agencies had their own security needs over and above what the Security Coordinator could provide, and those must also be considered.

    Suspension of Meeting

    Council President SERGEY LABROV (Russian Federation) suspended the meeting at 12:50 p.m. and announced that it would resume at 3 p.m. to allow for further interventions by other members, as well as concluding remarks by Ms. Bertini. Immediately following the conclusion of that meeting, the Council would hold consultations to address the draft resolution on the Middle East tabled by Syria and Tunisia.

    When the meeting resumed, STEFAN TAFROV (Bulgaria) said he supported the newly developed strategy to mobilize resources for the WFP, and was pleased with the partnership of new donors. He hoped that the trend of increasing resources for the WFP would continue. The international community must intervene at the right time to mobilize awareness and adequate response by donors -- he, therefore, called for consideration of an early warning mechanism. He supported the partnership among the various United Nations humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations.

    The Council must act and take appropriate measures where access for humanitarian staff in conflict areas was limited, he said. There must be a true commitment to the particularly vulnerable -- women, children, refugees, displaced persons. Efforts must be stepped up by the international community to ensure that their needs were met.

    FRANÇOIS LONSENY FALL (Guinea) said that under Ms. Bertini’s dynamic leadership, he had seen a new approach to the delivery of food aid. Indeed, the link between food aid and conflict settlement at all stages now appeared obvious. He would have wanted more time with Ms. Bertini to deal not only with Afghanistan, but with the worldwide picture, as that was totally consonant with the Council’s work. Food assistance was a fundamental element in the prevention and settlement of conflicts and was vital for peace-building. It was also an effective element of preventive diplomacy and the stabilization of States.

    Unfortunately, Africa continued to suffer from hunger and the consequences of conflict, he said. Guinea had experienced a massive influx of refugees. In that connection, food assistance and the physical protection of disaster victims were high priorities. The provision of aid should take into account the food habits of the recipients, and he encouraged the WFP to purchase local products. That would generate productivity and cut down delays. It would also generate additional assets in terms of a community’s recovery. International agreements on humanitarian aid should be strengthened, and everything possible should be done to promote the build-up of a nation’s natural resources. Also, measures should be taken to ensure the security of humanitarian and other United Nations personnel. The best way to resolve crises was conflict prevention and peace-building and, in that context, food assistance was playing a major role.

    ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that as the frontline agency in the United Nations system with the mandate to eliminate hunger, the WFP had for years been doing its utmost to deal with food crises throughout the world. The Programme’s timely assistance had saved numerous lives and had supported conflict settlement. The WFP had overcome many difficulties in providing assistance and had thus aided the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. As the picture on the ground had evolved, the WFP had shifted the focus of its work from relief to rehabilitation, he noted.

    It went without saying that with such adjustment the WFP would contribute to building a lasting peace in that country, he said. He paid tribute to WFP staff working in Afghanistan and in other hot spots throughout the world. Ms. Bertini’s excellence would be sorely missed by the international community, he added.

    KHEMRAJ JINGREE (Mauritius) commended the exemplary role of the WFP in extending food aid to the needy, sometimes in very difficult and dangerous situations. Empirical evidence had convincingly proved that the absence of food aid programmes in the right place at the right time aggravated crises and impeded States’ recovery. Ms. Bertini had made an outstanding contribution during the course of her mandate. Her vision of a world in which everyone had access at all times to the needed nourishment had paid its dividends, including in Africa and other parts of the world. Access to food was a basic human need; access or denial could quickly lead to social instability and even crisis.

    He said that access to food must be ensured, particularly to remote areas, in order to avoid further intensification of conflicts, and he encouraged the WFP to continue working towards that goal. In conflict situations, warlords sometimes deliberately caused food shortages. What was the WFP doing to deal with those artificial shortages of food? he asked. He commended the provision of food aid to the northern region of Afghanistan following the recent earthquakes. Were there any coordination mechanisms in place inside and outside Kabul? As a member of the Council, he would continue to work for improved security and access for humanitarian aid workers.

    RICHARD RYAN (Ireland) said at last week’s meeting on Afghanistan he had noted that the WFP would be aiding 8.8 million people in the country -- that was just one of WFP’s great successes. They had also taken important steps to address the causes of food insecurity. He looked forward to the establishment of real food stability in the country. He particularly appreciated WFP’s aid to schoolchildren.

    The WFP was a very important partner for Ireland’s aid programme, he said. Ireland had allocated a substantial part of its humanitarian aid budget in recent years to the WFP -- a sign of its faith in the Programme. Ireland looked forward to deepening its relationship with the WFP in years to come.

    RICHARD WILLIAMSON (United States) said that Ms. Bertini had been an outstanding public servant and leader, and a person with a good heart. She had done an outstanding job at the WFP, bringing assistance to some of the world’s neediest people. His country supported the WFP, both in dollars and food. Between 1992 and 2001, his country had contributed $6.34 billion to the Programme, or more than 40 per cent of its outlays. While the WFP provided food in all areas where there were peacekeeping operations, it was also present in many places where peacekeepers were not. Its many committed members brought life-saving food aid to people, mostly women and children, in war-torn regions, where fighting made it impossible for them to plant and harvest their own crops. The deprivation that war had brought to Angola, Afghanistan, West Africa and the Congo would be unimaginably higher were it not for the efforts of the WFP.

    He said that the women’s bakeries run by the WFP in Afghanistan provided a livelihood and restored dignity to women who would otherwise be reduced to begging for food for their families. The basic needs of people emerging from armed conflict did not end once the fighting had stopped; homes needed to be rebuilt, landmines removed, damaged irrigation systems repaired and crops planted. The challenge to the international community was to find the mechanisms and resources to address those needs. It also must focus on prevention, preparation and reducing risks beforehand. The WFP was facing a shortfall in the latest appeal for Afghanistan. He called on donors to help close that gap.

    CATHERINE MAHOUVE SAME (Cameroon) said 20 years of continuous conflict had made Afghanistan one of the world’s main sources of refugees and displaced persons, many of them children. As all knew, the crisis in Afghanistan affected populations not directly touched by the fighting. Given the worsening of the crisis, she was pleased to note the multidimensional activities of the WFP. She supported the opening of the women’s bakeries in Kabul, along with other initiatives, as well as the WFP’s support for women’s rights and education for girls. She was pleased with the programme launched for Afghan schoolchildren at the national level. The programme called for nutritional incentives for the teachers and those who helped rebuild schools, she pointed out.

    WFP personnel operated in a difficult and dangerous environment, and tribute should be paid to them, she said. She appreciated the close cooperation between the WFP and other humanitarian agencies. Guaranteeing access for humanitarian personnel to vulnerable populations was essential. The recipients must have access to protection and assistance. She called on Member States to facilitate the work of aid agencies striving to reach vulnerable populations, and to help to restore safe conditions for refugees and displaced persons.

    SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation), speaking in his national capacity, said that the work of the WFP was of particular significance as it helped alleviate poverty which, in turn, diminished the breeding grounds of terrorism. Nine million people needed food in Afghanistan. The task now facing the WFP and others in that country was dual in nature: it was not merely about feeding people, but also about ensuring a smooth transition from an emergency situation to recovery and development. Clearly, the leadership of the WFP understood that. Of great significance was coordination of the United Nations and other bilateral and multilateral donors, as well as other partners in the humanitarian operation.

    He said that today’s discussion had highlighted the indissoluble link between the Council’s issues and those of the international community in easing the suffering of populations. There was growing Council involvement in the protection of civilians, the humanitarian aspects of sanctions, and the protection of children in armed conflict. The Council should discuss those aspects in the context of specific crisis situations and not in an abstract manner. Food assistance should never be used as a means of exerting influence in a conflict. It was also important to improve cooperation in terms of coordination between the Council and the Economic and Social Council.

    Ms. BERTINI, Executive Director of the WFP, then responded to questions and comments made during the meeting. She said the humanitarian community was pleased that the Council had taken up humanitarian issues in the context of discussing peace and security.

    The establishment of UNAMA was important for all in the humanitarian community. They had worked closely with the Secretariat in developing the Mission’s procedures, and were working in close connection with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, as well as his deputy, Nigel Fischer, who had been very helpful in coordinating efforts.

    The WFP worked with local authorities, always committing itself to ensuring that food was being used appropriately. In cases where food was not being used in that way, the WFP would revert to Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

    The WFP was distributing food throughout Afghanistan, not just in the cities, using a network of more than 60 non-governmental organizations. The network was extremely strong. There were tremendous capacities that the military had to offer, particularly in logistics. Jordan, for example, had set up a field military health centre in Mazar-i-Sharif. Bridge-building and demining operations were also helpful. Military personnel should be identified as being so, she stressed.

    The WFP had to deal with non-State factions constantly, she said. That was part of the increased risk to staff. They had to work with those parties -– though that did not imply that the WFP recognized them in any legal sense. Where food was being withheld, they reverted to a senior political person to try to fix the problem.

    The WFP was doing the best it could in Gaza, she said. They were still distributing food to hospitals, orphanages and others who needed it. Transportation certainly was a challenge in the region.

    She hoped that over the long term people who were desperately hungry because they were poor -- not because they lived in a conflict zone or were victims of natural disaster -- could be supported. She appreciated the comments of the United Kingdom related to food aid and development. On a case-by-case basis, there could be instances where food aid was useful in the development context.

    She thanked the Council for its political, moral and financial support to the WFP in its mission to end hunger worldwide.

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