Rome, 17 April, 2023
Good evening everyone, and thank you Professor Quieti for the kind introduction and for inviting me to AUR this evening to speak about the work that we do at the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome.
As you might know, our Mission is one of three U.S. Missions in Rome. The largest is the U.S. Embassy to Italy, and it manages the U.S. bilateral relationship with the people and government of Italy; then there is the U.S. Mission to the Holy See – the Vatican; and our Mission: we work with the United Nations Agencies here in Rome.
I imagine that many of you, especially those who are studying with Professor Quieti, are familiar with the Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO – and the World Food Program – WFP. These agencies were set up in Rome by the United Nations in the aftermath of WWII to fight hunger in the world.
FAO was established in 1945 with the objective of eliminating hunger and improving nutrition and standards of living by increasing agricultural productivity. It leads international efforts to defeat hunger and achieve food security by building resilience and capacity in agriculture and food systems worldwide.
WFP was created a few years later, in 1961, at the behest of the U.S. president at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to provide food aid through the UN system. It provides emergency food and humanitarian assistance in response to natural and man-made disasters such as conflict. Most recently they have added Ukraine after Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion and responding to the latest needs in Turkey and Syria after the devastating earthquake there.
A third agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD – was created after the 1974 World Food Conference in response to the food crises in the early 1970s, primarily widespread famine and malnutrition in parts of Africa. It is an international financial institution that provides grants and low-interest loans to help small farmers grow and lift themselves out of poverty.
Together, these three agencies spearhead international efforts to eliminate hunger in the world.
Our Mission (another word for Embassy) includes representatives from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This ensures that we work together as a team with a whole-of-government approach to fight global hunger and promote sustainable development in an efficient and effective manner.
The work at our Mission is a little different than that of a bilateral mission. While the U.S. Embassy to Italy, for example, is focused squarely on relations between Italy and the United States, we engage in multilateral diplomacy, building relationships with these food agencies and with the Ambassadors from all other UN member countries to find solutions to food insecurity. Instead of just focusing on the relationship with one country, our Mission is working on food security issues across the globe, wherever there is need.
And of course, as U.S. diplomats, we are also there to advance U.S. priorities and interests. What are some of those interests?
Well, the United States is focused on creating innovative and sustainable solutions for achieving a hunger-free world and responding to, and building resilience, in the face of crises caused by conflict, climate change, and natural disaster. By using all the science and technology at our disposal, we can work to make the world a better place.
We provide direct feedback to the food agencies on the specific programs and activities that they execute, many of which are funded by U.S. dollars – we are by far the largest donor to all three agencies. We also promote good governance and management practices to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations.
And right now, there’s real urgency behind our mission, because sadly poverty and food insecurity are both on the rise after decades of development gains.
Conflicts, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic had already created a huge challenge by disrupting global food supplies, raising food prices, and causing the number of hungry to rise around the world. We were approaching a catastrophe of epic proportions as we saw the numbers of people going hungry skyrocket.
Then Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed his unprovoked and illegal war on Ukraine, causing an unprecedented shock to the global food system, with the most vulnerable people hit the hardest. WFP Executive Director David Beasley has said that this took us from a catastrophe to something approaching an apocalypse.
Today, according to WFP, 2.4 billion people in the world, nearly one in three – do not have access to adequate food. Think about that – nearly 30% of the world does not have access to the food that they and their families need to survive. And on top of that, a record 349 million people across 79 countries face acute hunger.
Of those almost a million are at risk of famine: they will die of hunger if we don’t help them. So, you can understand the urgency.
The United States is certainly doing our part. We are the largest provider of financial contributions to the United Nations, providing 22 percent of the entire UN budget – roughly $11 billion dollars. And that’s during a normal year.
However, in today’s world, with the multiple crises exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, the United States has responded with a record contribution to global food security, providing over 7.2 billion dollars to the WFP and almost a quarter of a billion dollars to FAO. That’s greater than all other donor contributions combined last year.
But it isn’t enough, we need all countries to step up and contribute what they can and that is one of the strong messages we give when we meet with other countries at meetings and conferences at the UN Agencies in Rome and during our international travels.
That’s one of the reasons why multilateral work within the UN system is so important – we are much stronger together than we are apart. And when we work together, as nations or as individuals, we can make a huge difference.
And with that, I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.