Remarks by Ambassador David Lane at the World Food Program Executive Board

Thank you Mr. President, and thank you Madame Executive Director for your thoughtful and comprehensive presentations.  Please allow me to join others in welcoming Stephen O’Brien to WFP and to his new role as Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, although I’m sure he’s not feeling too new at this point after a few intense months on the job.

We honor the WFP staff and implementing partners who have lost their lives while undertaking the work of WFP and we offer our condolences to their family, friends and colleagues.  We salute the dedication of WFP staff and recognize the danger they face every day.  And we are thankful for the safe release last week of sixteen staff of WFP’s implementing partner, Center for Rural Development, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At this final Executive Board session for 2015, I cannot help but reflect on this extraordinary year.  At the time of the February Boards, we were in the midst of the full-blown Ebola crisis in West Africa, which saw WFP emerge as the main logistics provider for the UN, NGOs and governments.  WFP staff, immediately upon deployment, began constructing Ebola treatment units, coordinating logistics clusters, bringing in vehicles and other equipment, providing food assistance to quarantined communities, and helping WHO staff reach and operate deep in the field, a particular WFP strength.

By the first Annual session in May, we were stunned by the escalation of the migrant crisis, with thousands of people crossing into Europe by sea and by land, desperate to leave hopelessness and to start new lives.  Many of these migrants were and continue to be from Syria, where WFP remains a key provider of regular, systematic humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of refugees living in in Jordan and Lebanon.  And while a lot of people have been assisted, we know the numbers WFP can assist have been greatly reduced during this past year due to insufficient funds.

The 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria and more than 4 million Syrian refugees in the region face dire humanitarian conditions.  After four years of conflict, their savings and assets are gone. Without the legal right to work, refugees depend on WFP and other organizations to provide basic humanitarian needs.  We see other social issues emerging such as child labor and early marriages.  Yet, UN appeals for humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Syria and the region are 55% unfunded, which has only compelled families to seek help elsewhere.

By funding WFP’s Syria response, we show support not primarily to WFP, but to refugee-hosting communities and governments.   We must recognize the burden placed on infrastructure and social systems when a population is suddenly increased by 10 or 20 percent.  We sincerely thank the generosity and openness, particularly displayed by the governments and the people of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, even after four years and with no end in sight.  We cannot walk away from this generosity by cutting back our funding now.  Not now, when we are still so far from a political solution.

And, at this final session, as we confront the escalation of conflict in Yemen and ensuing massive humanitarian needs in an increasingly complex political context, let’s not forget the massive earthquake in Nepal that killed thousands as well as WFP’s food assistance to some three million people.  Both Yemen and Nepal show how effectively and quickly WFP can deliver when the stakes are high.  This experience will be all the more important as we gear up for the widespread impacts of El Nino.

Yes, 2015 has been extraordinary, but we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the challenges of 2015 followed a challenging 2014, and will be followed by an even more challenging 2016, with the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic and with WFP’s resources already stretched.  Indeed, the list of conflicts is quite long but I’ll stop here because we have other challenges before us. The El Nino event might end by spring, but the impacts of drought last much longer, particularly in the already fragile environments found in the Horn of Africa. We call on all donors to do all they can to support WFP’s important work.

We know that WFP and all of its staff have 2016 very much on their minds because of their forward thinking and strong efforts to improve efficiency and value for money through a number of innovations, including offshoring, country program strategies, and integrating the logistics and procurement divisions, all to better reflect how WFP operates in the field.  We are grateful that WFP recognizes the need to have full Board buy-in by taking the time necessary to present comprehensive proposals for discussion.  We are confident that WFP is ready to meet the challenges of 2016 head –on.

WFP and its mission represent some of our most important values and aspirations for humanity.  As a public international organization, we think it is important not only that the WFP and its management live up to the highest standards, but that they lead the international community in promoting them.  If we frequently push the WFP to better reflect gender equality, non-discrimination and merit-based promotion – If we push WFP to be accountable, open and transparent in its decision-making – it is because we believe in the organization and want to see in WFP the world as we hope it can be.

Thank you.