8 April 2003

World Food Programme Needs $1.8 Billion to Address African Food Emergency, Security Council Told

Several Council Members Stress Importance of Dealing With Root Causes of Hunger

NEW YORK, 7 April (UN Headquarters) -- "How is it that we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world"? Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), James T. Morris, asked the Security Council today. " We simply cannot let this stand".

Briefing the Council on Africa's food crisis as a threat to peace and security, Mr. Morris, said that the WFP needed to find $1.8 billion this year to meet the emergency food needs in Africa. That was more than the biennial budget of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. The causes of Africa's food crises included "a lethal combination" of recurring droughts, failed economic policies, conflict and the widening impact of HIV/AIDS, which had damaged the food sector and the capacity of governments to respond to need.

Among encouraging developments, however, he mentioned the fact that the Secretary-General had made the issue of African hunger "very much his own". Also, France and the United States were working together to put the African food crises on the agenda of the upcoming Group of 8 meeting in June. Despite the distribution of more than 620,000 tons of emergency food to more than 10 million people in southern Africa, he added, it would be foolish to say that the crisis there was over. Crop prospects were better, but more droughts were forecast. The WFP remained especially concerned about Zimbabwe, where, according to numerous media reports, food assistance was being politicized.

Reacting to the Executive Director's presentation, speakers stressed the need for efforts by the international community to address the crisis, saying that food security was closely related to larger security issues. Several speakers also stressed the need to address root causes of hunger, rather than focus on food emergencies. As the United Kingdom representative pointed out, many of the WFP's proposals were not the responsibility of the Security Council as such, but the Council could play an important role in addressing the peacekeeping and diplomatic aspects of the food problem.

Germany's representative said that the most important elements, which made it almost impossible to fight hunger in Africa, were a combination of bad governance, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and food shortages. Without a sound approach to the establishment of good governance, any isolated efforts to counter the AIDS or food crises would remain a piece-meal approach.

Quoting a proverb of his country, China's representative said that if you gave a fish to a person, he could only eat it as a meal. However, if you taught him how to catch a fish, he would benefit from it all his life. In addition to providing aid, he said, a better approach to eliminate the lack of food was to teach people "how to catch fish". He asked if the WFP cooperated in any way with other international organizations to increase the capacity for self-reliance.

Speaking in his national capacity, the Council's President, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser (Mexico) remarked that the amount needed to address the crisis -- $1.8 billion -- was a significant amount indeed, but paled in comparison with military expenditures nowadays.

The representatives of United States, Cameroon, Chile, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Guinea, Syria and Angola also made interventions.

The meeting was called to order at 3:20 p.m. and adjourned at 5:10 p.m.


The Security Council met this afternoon to hear a briefing on Africa's food crisis as a threat to peace and security by James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

The Council was last briefed on the subject on 3 December 2002 (see Press Release SC/7582) by Mr. Morris, who said then that Africa was experiencing severe problems of food security because of a combination of difficult weather situations and health factors (dramatically complicated by HIV/AIDS), as well as civil strife and issues related to governance and economic policy. He added that there was a need for stronger consistent funding for humanitarian aid, as the amount of food aid had decreased by 25 per cent.

Briefing by WFP Executive Director

JAMES T. MORRIS, Executive Director of the WFP, said that with the world's attention focused on Iraq, the WFP had launched what could become the largest humanitarian operation in history -- a massive intervention covering logistics, food and communications -- totaling $1.3 billion over six months. The work there focused on the potential to feed some 27 million people.

At the same time, as the Council met today, some 200 million people in Africa were malnourished, and nearly 40 million Africans were in even greater peril, most of them women and children. That led him to a thought about a double standard. "How is it we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world"? he asked. " We simply cannot let this stand".

The causes of Africa's food crises remained as he had described them in December, he continued -- a lethal combination of recurring droughts, failed economic policies, conflict and the widening impact of HIV/AIDS, which had damaged the food sector and the capacity of governments to respond to need. The WFP needed to somehow find $1.8 billion this year just to meet the emergency food needs in Africa. That was equal to all the resources it had been able to gather last year for its projects worldwide.

Continuing shortfalls for food emergencies in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Afghanistan, as well as future demands in Iraq further darkened the outlook for Africa, he said. Last year, global food aid had continued to plummet, dipping below 10 million metric tons -- down from 15 million in 1999. Chronic hunger was actually rising in the developing world outside China, and the World Health Organization (WHO) had announced that hunger remained the world's number one threat to health.

Until recently, it had seemed that appeals for help were just not getting through, he continued, but he had some encouraging news. First, the Secretary-General had made the issue of African hunger -- especially as it related to AIDS -- very much his own. Second, France and the United States were working together to put African food crises on the agenda of the upcoming Group of 8 (G-8) meeting in June. President Bush had announced the creation of a new $200 million fund to prevent famine, and he hoped for a broader political commitment by the G-8 and others to address food emergencies in Africa.

He went on to inform the Council about his recent trip to southern Africa as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy and the outlook on the current food security situation in Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Sahel and West Africa. The impact of AIDS in southern Africa, and to a lesser degree in the Horn of Africa, grew daily, but the peak impact of the epidemic was not expected until 2005 to 2007. Both the governments and the food sector had been seriously affected. Even if governments succeeded in maintaining a fair degree of central control and political cohesion, basic services and their economies were bound to suffer.

Among the encouraging developments, however, he listed the fact that more than 620,000 tons of emergency food had been distributed to more than 10 million people in southern Africa. Donors had been very generous, especially, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Germany. The genetically modified food issue had faded and was no longer delaying food deliveries. Five of the six countries in need of aid in southern Africa were now accepting processed and milled genetically modified foods.

It would be foolish to say that the crisis was over, however. Crop prospects were better, but more droughts were forecast. The WFP remained especially concerned about Zimbabwe, where, according to numerous media reports, food assistance was being politicized. The WFP's goal was to depoliticize food aid in Zimbabwe. Food should be available to all based on humanitarian principles with any other considerations being inappropriate.

The food emergency in Ethiopia had far fewer political overtones, he said. The country had made substantial economic gains over the past several years. Over 11 million Ethiopians required food and other relief assistance, with another 3 million on the edge. Fortunately, the funding outlook for Ethiopia was good, and there were already pledges totaling about 70 per cent of the needs.

In Eritrea, on the other hand, the situation was much more difficult, he continued. The situation was further complicated by the conflict. Drought was the major culprit in the Horn of Africa. Food security had also deteriorated in the Western Sahel -- Mauritania, Cape Verde, Gambia, Senegal and Mali -- and emergency feeding operations were desperately short of cash, at only 40 per cent of the requirements. In Angola, the WFP's caseload had recently risen from 1 to 1.8 million people.

He touched upon the problem of Africa's refugees and internally displaced persons, saying that the conflict was producing enormous problems in Africa. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the WFP had warned that the fate of more than 1.2 million refugees in Africa was uncertain due to a lack of funding for much-needed food aid.

Turning to the steps the international community could take now, he said that last month, there had been "a very fruitful" preparatory meeting for the G-8 in New York, which had helped to shape some ideas for future action. Preventing and responding to food crises in Africa required commitment by a range of actors, especially Africans themselves. Global trade policies of the rich industrial nations that had a direct negative impact on agricultural production needed to be reversed.

The WFP was planning to call on the G-8 for a far stronger donor commitment to emergency food aid based on better targeting and more sophisticated early warning systems. A substantial increase was needed in support for investment in basic agricultural infrastructure, including irrigation, roads and markets. Among possible measures, he also listed famine risk insurance schemes and other mechanisms.

One of the proposals concerned funding of a $300 million African Food Emergency Fund, which would be an immediate response account that could be used at the very outset of a food crisis, he said. Fast access to cash to buy food locally or regionally, hire transport, set up communications and to fill breaks in food aid pipelines would vastly strengthen the speed with which the WFP could respond. It was also necessary to encourage donations from non-traditional donors, including civil society.

A major investment was needed in Africa's children and their education, he said. The situation of women also needed to be addressed. The long-term future of Africa would depend greatly on a well-nourished, educated and skilled workforce. An initial annual investment of $300 million in school feeding, to be gradually increased to $2 billion a year by 2015, would permit the WFP to support the Education for All initiative. He was grateful for recent commitments from several countries. In fact, Canada had committed 75 million Canadian dollars over three years in support of school feeding in five African countries.

In conclusion, he also underlined the critical importance of peacekeeping and diplomacy. War and conflict in Africa, as elsewhere, quickly led to hunger. War and conflict cut productivity, increased HIV/AIDS, increased refugee and internally displaced persons' movements and affected children.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said the elements of an emergency forced the Programme to deal with short-term actions. Man-made complications, such as war, were factors, and he agreed that food should not be used as a weapon. He was also alarmed about the impact of HIV/AIDS.

He asked what the WFP's most recent message to donors had been and what response had been given. What were the unmet needs in 2003?

MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU (Cameroon) said the food crisis in Africa was a threat to international peace and security. The major obstacles to the WFP's objectives included weather, environment, health, HIV/AIDS, as well as conflict and governmental problems. Noting that the mandate of the WFP in 1999 had been expanded to make the WFP an instrument for development, he said the Programme was still called on to address food emergency situations. At the present time, the emergency functions seemed to be in fact pivotal to what the WFP was doing. The crux of the mandate was to support development action to prevent emergency situations.

GABRIEL VALDEZ (Chile) said one could only be deeply affected by the depth of the crisis and the difficulties faced by the WFP. How could the WFP face emergencies today, such as in Ethiopia and Eritrea, when one did not know what the actual donations from member countries would be? Given the situation there, what assistance could be expected?

It was clear that chronic hunger was growing in the developing world, and was still the main reason for medical shortcomings, he said. That raised questions concerning the system and had to do with development policies. He suggested that another meeting be called to address the food situation in Iraq.

HANNS HEINRICH SCHUMACHER (Germany) said he wanted to challenge Mr. Morris' initial affirmation that the international community was routinely accepting a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that it would never accept in any other part of the world. "Are we really routinely accepting the food shortage in Africa"? he asked. Could it be a case of donor fatigue?

Having efficiently responded to food crises in Africa several years ago, the international community was now faced with the same appeal, he said. Mr. Morris had referred to man-made problems in some countries, and he believed that intertwined, there were three important elements, which made it almost impossible to fight hunger in Africa. Those were a combination of bad governance, HIV/AIDS epidemic and food shortages. Without a sound approach to the establishment of good governance, wouldn't any isolated efforts to counter the AIDS or food crises remain a piece-meal approach? Good governance had been addressed in the Millennium Declaration, and it needed to receive more attention.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said the WFP had performed outstanding work in many countries, including Afghanistan. This afternoon, the central issue was the specific link between the food crises and threat to peace and security. He wanted to know how specifically that relationship existed. Mr. Morris had said that the Programme's goal was not to politicize, but depoliticize food aid, particularly in Zimbabwe. However, without depriving people of humanitarian aid, could the provision of food assistance be used as an incentive for conflict resolution in some of the crises in Africa? He also wanted to know how a looming drought in the Horn of Africa had affected the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In response to questions and comments, Mr. Morris remarked, in reaction to the intervention of the United States, that that country in 2001 had provided more than 60 per cent in humanitarian assistance to the WFP. Regarding the issue of HIV/AIDS, he said he was overwhelmed by issues relating to children. There were 11 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. It was not uncommon to see a family of five children headed by a 15-year old girl. The responsibility the world had for those children regarding food, health and education was enormous. The HIV/AIDS crisis also had a devastating impact on human resources in government and education.

For food aid this year, 3.8 million metric tons were needed along with $8.2 billion. Eight of the 10 top donors had increased their assistance dramatically last year, but new donors and help from the private sector was needed.

He said that 10 years ago, 80 per cent of the WFP's activities had been geared towards development. Today, 80 per cent was dedicated to emergency relief. Among other things, that was due to the increase in natural disasters. The Programme was trying to implement emergency assistance in such a way that it would have a long-term impact. Feeding a child in school was a long-term investment, for instance, as were investments in food during work.

As for a question about assistance required for Ethiopia and Eritrea, he said that in Ethiopia, $205 million had been raised, which was 70 per cent of what was needed there. The situation in Eritrea was worse, as $100 million was needed, and only $8.57 million had been raised. There were 900,000 soldiers in Eritrea being repatriated who had not been available to the agricultural sector. Indeed, he said, the conflict had exacerbated the problem.

He agreed with Germany's representative that the issue of leadership and governance was of prime importance. He was optimistic that Malawi and Zambia would come out of the agricultural crisis, but agricultural production in Zimbabwe had not increased, and the private sector did not function there.

As for tying peace and security to food issues, he said hungry people behaved differently. When people were fed they began to learn and were less likely to be violent. The Programme had used food to some degree in conflict resolution in Angola and Sierra Leone in exchange for laying down weapons.

STEFAN TAFROV (Bulgaria) said Mr. Morris' presentation could serve as a basis for consideration of further action by the Council to address the issues of food security. Becoming aware of the food situation in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa and its effect on the general situation there, he believed it was extremely important for the Council to be able to integrate the data and criteria for food security into its approach to conflict on the continent.

His question concerned Somalia and the Horn of Africa, he said. The situation in Somalia was on the Council's agenda. He wanted to know about the food situation there and the donors' attitude towards that country.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) commended "the terrific role" played by the WFP in Africa and asked what Mr. Morris expected from the Security Council. Increasingly, the WFP was looking at symptoms and not causes of hunger. It was also looking at more than food issues. It was increasingly less able to deal with the causes, and yet the causes, from the briefing, were as much structural as emergency-related. Therefore, the United Nations system should be doing something about the structural causes, rather than addressing the food emergencies.

It was true that there was never enough donor activity, he continued, but also, there was an interplay with other issues, including HIV/AIDS, for example. While many of the WFP's proposals were not the responsibility of the Security Council as such, Mr. Morris had ended his briefing by saying how critically important the peacekeeping and diplomatic aspects were. Those were examples of what the Council could do. One was, of course, conflict resolution. The Council could also play a role in addressing such problems as politicization of food issues and governance.

ANA MARIA MENEDEZ (Spain) said the information given was stark. She asked if any lessons had been learned from past success stories or failures in Africa. What Council action would be needed in the future? She also asked about the concept of replenishment in human resources, as it was difficult to have a capacity-building policy when parents had died or were ill and could not convey their agricultural know-how to their children.

MICHEL DUCLOS (France) attached the greatest importance to the question of the food crisis in Africa and hoped to put that issue at the forefront of the agenda of the upcoming G-8 meeting. He was struck by the magnitude of the crisis, he said, and the interplay of various factors that exacerbated the crisis.

He said southern Africa was a microcosm of the most worrisome factors regarding the food situation. The devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS could be seen there in the most glaring fashion. Although Mr. Morris had said he wished to focus on the humanitarian aspect of the food problems, he wondered if in that situation, the overall strategy of the international community should not be revisited. He asked whether in southern Africa coordination between the major players was working effectively. He also expressed interest in a later briefing by the Programme on Iraq.

BOUBACAR DIALLO (Guinea) said that the picture that had emerged from today's briefing, was "far from rosy", and the food situation in Africa remained alarming. It was important to adopt a definite approach to the food crises in Africa, and he wanted to know if coordination efforts were being undertaken there. Was it possible to set a viable coordination mechanism for Africa in that respect?

FAYSSAL MEKHAD (Syria) said that food security was an important issue, on which the Council had not spent enough time. As previous speakers had pointed out, there were certain limits of the Council's responsibility in that respect, and some issues were related to good governance. Despite those constraints, the topic deserved to be developed further.

The issue of Iraq remained "the problem of the day", he continued, and the role of the WFP was very important there. There was a new role for the WFP and humanitarian agencies in Iraq, which was separate from the "oil-for-food" programme. The conduct of war must be governed by the Geneva conventions, and the international community should not assist the Iraqi people with the money out of their own pocket. He wanted to know how the WFP intended to assist the people of Iraq.

ISMAEL ABRAAO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said that while the WFP dealt with food and the Council dealt with peace and security, it was important that Mr. Morris had given his briefings to the Council. In his presentation, Mr. Morris had referred to the fact that a green revolution was needed in Africa. Very often, food supply inadequacies and famines created conditions conducive to disturbances. He noted the point that 80 per cent of the WFP's resources were dedicated to dealing with the emergency situations, and only 20 per cent to development and production of food. He wanted to know if the WFP was trying to change that trend. Was it trying to invest in the resources for development, creating conditions for food production, rather than emergencies?

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said the picture presented was grave, as 40 million people faced a lack of food and malnutrition. But for the hard efforts of the WFP, the situation faced today would have been much grimmer. China had an expression that said that if you give a fish to a person, he can only eat it as a meal. However, if you can teach him how to catch a fish, he would benefit from it all his life. In addition to providing aid, a better approach to eliminate the lack of food was to teach people "how to catch fish", he said, and asked if the WFP cooperated in any way with other international organizations to increase the capacity for self-reliance.

The Council's President, ADOLFO AGUILAR ZINSER (Mexico), speaking in his national capacity, said the food situation in southern Africa and other parts of Africa was perplexing. Food security was a moral imperative. The situation must, among other things, also be resolved through deep changes in the region. Hampering efforts in Africa were factors such as soil degradation, desertification, recurring natural catastrophes, infections, violent conflicts, civil disturbances, anti-personnel mines in agricultural fields, climate changes, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other diseases.

He said the amount needed, $1.8 billion, was a significant amount, but not significant when compared to military expenditures. He asked what the Council's action should be in conjunction with other United Nations bodies in order to tackle the crisis.

Responding to questions and comments, Mr. Morris said that profound issues had been raised by Council members, which meant a lot to the WFP. Clearly, he was unable to give all the answers the Council deserved today. The WFP would respond in writing to all the questions, however.

Regarding Somalia, he said that it was a difficult country in which to work. It was also difficult to assess the magnitude of the problem there. This year, the Programme needed to feed nearly 3 million people. In the past, it had been successful in raising nearly 75 per cent of the resources needed. It was encouraging that nearly 20 countries helped the WFP in Somalia.

To the question regarding the role of the Security Council, he replied that first of all, it could place the humanitarian issues, including food, at the centre of the world's agenda. The humanitarian issues were security issues. If people were treated in a humane way and had the basic ingredients to realize their potential, security issues would be mitigated. In terms of reducing conflict, what the WFP was doing was very important. A strong statement from one of the most important bodies in the world -- the Security Council -- had to be taken seriously. Food, health and education were at the base of security and good life for individuals.

Regarding lessons learned, he said the WFP did know how to distribute food, but it was also learning to use food as a tool for prevention, investment and development. For reasons that were not clear to him, the Programme had also learned how difficult it was to make a case for non-food items, including seeds and agricultural tools and implements. The WFP knew that investments made at the very beginning of the crises were much more powerful. Among other lessons learned, was the value of early warning systems.

On the issue of coordination, he said that rebuilding the capacities of education and health were so important that all partners needed to be a part of that. The level of cooperation had been extraordinary in southern Africa, where a regional coordinating arm had been created with the help of the Southern African Development Community and several agencies of the United Nations system to coordinate efforts on a regional basis to respond to the crisis in six countries.

Regarding the WFP's role in Iraq, he said the Programme had been in Iraq for many years, helping to monitor the oil-for-food programme and distributing food. The WFP was now looking at a six-month programme, which would initially focus on refugees and internally displaced persons. It also needed to make sure that there was enough food for the whole population of Iraq through three or four months. The situation in Iraq was unique, as some 60 per cent of the country's population depended on the oil-for-food programme, and an effective distribution system was in place.

As months five and six came along, he assumed the oil-for-food programme would be back in place and that the WFP would focus on refugees, internally displaced persons and very vulnerable people. He noted that the WFP was also the logistical arm of the United Nations. As a part of the consolidated appeal process, $2.2 billion had been requested in the short term. He also asked for $100 million in logistical assistance.

By Council resolution 1472 (2003) he had been given the authority to have access to certain proceeds of the oil-for-food programme for a 45-day period, Mr. Morris said, and from that programme, $110 million would be available to feed the people. He hoped that period would be extended. Conversations with donors to fulfill the rest of the requirements were going well. Commitments had been made by 11 countries, which had varying views of the conflict. A tremendous commitment had been made by Germany. He noted that, as it sometimes took months from the time a commitment was made until food was delivered, time was of the essence.

Regarding Angola's question about the needed "green revolution" in Africa, he said worldwide, there had been a trend away from investment in basic agricultural infrastructure. The United States and United Kingdom, however, had recently started to turn their investments around in that regard. As to the question how the emergency in Ethiopia could happen, he said in the past, investments had been made in emergency relief instead of development investment. The lesson from that had been learned.

Commenting on the question from the representative of China -- "a great success story in terms of letting the market function" -- he said the United Nations agencies worked well together on the issue of self-reliance.

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