Remarks by Nerissa Cook, Dep. Asst. Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, at the Opening of the World Food Program Executive Board

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Organizations, speaks at the June 2017 World Food Program Executive Board (photo Giulio Napolitano/WFP)

June 12, 2017

Thank you, Mr. President. I would first like to warmly welcome Executive Director David Beasley, and to commend his early efforts to forge crucial relationships, build networks across communities of interest, and digest in detail the critical work of the World Food Program. I would also like to thank the AU Commissioner for her excellent remarks this morning.

The Executive Director inherits this challenging role at a time that will require much not just of him, but of all of us.  Throughout its 50+ years, WFP has been among the best examples of what can be accomplished with sustained, collective action.  And yet, food insecurity is perhaps a more pressing, more broadly rooted challenge today than at any time in modern history.

The magnitude and persistence of this challenge demands of us new levels of creativity, collaboration, and thoughtful risk-taking.  The Executive Director, in partnership with his counterparts at FAO and IFAD, has taken early steps in this direction in seeking improved coordination where humanitarian response intersects with development and sustainability.  I note in particular the recent joint visit made with FAO Director-General Graziano to South Sudan.  As we anticipate updates in the coming months on implementation of the Grand Bargain commitments, I am confident that the Executive Director will include the Executive Board in his thinking on where and how additional collaborative efforts can accelerate action on key priorities.

Making the most of partnerships must be part of the answer, including through new levels of interaction with the private sector.   Any such partnership, public or private, should be driven by the need to expand the number and character of donors willing to support WFP on a continuing basis.  Partnerships should be rooted not just in access to resources, but just as importantly, economies of scale, gains in agility, improved delivery, and innovation sharing.

The United States has long been the world’s largest humanitarian donor, and although the President’s recent Fiscal Year 2018 budget submission included reductions in humanitarian and development accounts, it in no way signals our exit from that stage.  The United States will remain a leader in providing humanitarian assistance, and will continue to assert American leadership through foreign aid.  As our long budget process unfolds, we will remain as engaged as ever in important bodies such as this one, ready to contribute our perspectives, recommendations, and even out-of-the-box thinking.

As we explore new perspectives and give renewed emphasis to partnerships, our collective vision must also remain focused on long term development priorities that can only have positive returns in helping to mitigate future risk of food insecurity.  When it comes to global food needs, we have always known the desired end point, but have too often divorced emergency response from a sustained, integrated development focus.

Just as we explore further the crucial nexus between emergency response and sustained development, we must continually examine the origins of conflict and instability that so often reverse development gains.  As we continue to broaden our thinking about the range of actions and actors that can support global emergency response needs, that same creative thinking can contribute to the larger questions of how we address the early indicators of instability, displacement, and conflict.  Without an end to the conflict, measures taken by WFP and its staff, no matter how heroic, will be temporary in nature, especially if WFP does not have access to reach populations in need.  We call on all actors to allow unfettered access by WFP to populations in need and all actors to commit to political solutions to establish peace.

It is always an honor to represent the United States in this esteemed body, and to have the opportunity to commend the accomplishments of the World Food Program.  We salute the courage and commitment of the WFP’s global staff and express our continuing gratitude for the sacrifice we know many staff members make to fulfill the mission.  We look forward to helping chart the future of this crucial institution. Thank you.