Helen Clark: Statement to the WFP Executive Board

12 Nov 2009

Thursday, 12 November 2009, Rome

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues,

I am pleased to be with you today on my first visit to Italy since becoming Administrator of UNDP, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to address this session of the Executive Board of the World Food Programme.

At the outset, let me express my deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of those WFP staff members killed and injured recently in Pakistan. Attacks like these are terrible tragedies taking the lives of those who seek only to help others. We grieve for all those dedicated workers whose lives were lost.

WFP is a very important partner for UNDP around the world, as it is for the whole UN humanitarian and development system. But we can do more together, as your Executive Director and I have discussed today.

I see Josette Sheeran, as a key ally as we seek to tackle the numerous challenges to development which our world faces. As a fellow woman leader of a UN agency, I know that Josette also is determined to see that all our work takes gender perspectives into account. Our world will always fall short of the development goals it sets if half the population does not have equal access to opportunity and security.

The 21st century has brought with it multiple crises which have hit developing countries especially hard. The World Food Programme’s services are in high demand, as our world reels from the effects of food crises, fuel price spikes, global recession, and natural disasters.

This is putting pressure not only on countries which are widely acknowledged to be in crisis, but also on some hitherto stable countries. I am a strong advocate of my own organization maintaining a universal presence – providing that individual countries want that – to support countries as they deal with a range of crises which are corrosive of constitutional governance and, where organized crime and drug trafficking takes hold, threatening to citizen security too.

For World Food Programme, its presence in close to eighty countries gives it a solid base from which to scale up its presence when required.

Prior to the recession, we could point to significant progress on a number of the Millennium Development Goals. Now there is well justified concern that hard-won progress towards the MDGs will be reversed.

As this Executive Board is only too well aware, that is already the case on the goal to reduce hunger. In 2007, just before the global food crisis hit, the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries stood at around 850 million. FAO believes that number will exceed one billion this year.

Next week, all eyes will be on Rome as the World Summit on Food Security convenes here. This follows the strong commitments made at the G8 meeting, hosted by Italy, to support a comprehensive approach to food security, backed by significant increased funding.

Official development assistance aimed at the agricultural sector has been out of vogue for a long time. There is an old saying that we reap what we sow. Conversely, we can’t reap what we don’t sow. Combined with a fast rising world population – and within that a fast growing middle class, diversion of crops to biofuels, extreme climate events affecting food production, and the toll of war and conflict on agriculture, the neglect of the sector in development prioritisation has made a challenging situation much worse than it need have been. Alas it is the poorest people on earth who pay the price for that neglect.

It is important that new pledges on food security materialize now and that they are applied to developing the agricultural potential which so many developing countries have. As well as meeting the immediate needs for food which WFP strives so hard to do, we must jointly work to strengthen those capacities and institutions which make sustainable development possible and help build resilience to withstand the shocks which are likely to keep appearing.

I am delighted to see this Board meeting updating its policy on capacity development, to support countries to address the causes of our food insecurity and to achieve the MDG targets for reduction of hunger.

I have come to the position of Administrator of UNDP and Chair of the UN Development Group some years after concerted efforts began to get greater co-ordination across the UN’s funds, programmes, and specialized agencies. To me, better co-ordination and avoidance of duplication of efforts is just plain common sense.

There is more than enough work for all of us working in the development and humanitarian agencies – so working in a complementary way and drawing on each other’s strengths is important.

WFP is a cornerstone member of the UNDG, and its leaders have done a lot to help get the reforms to where they are today. Josette Sheeran herself served on the UN High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence.

Along with UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF, WFP sits as a permanent member of the UNDG Advisory Group, which meets at principals’ level and is vice-chair of the UNDG working group for programming issues.

WFP is also a critical member of the UN Country Teams in the close to eighty countries in which it was present last year, including five of the eight “Delivering as One” pilot countries.

Many useful lessons are emerging from these pilots. Our UN Country Teams in the eight pilot countries are getting their work more closely aligned with national priorities, which is very much in the interests of the developing countries concerned.

The pilots are also pushing the UN system to overcome the barriers to co-ordination which exist through our different operational and reporting procedures.

But beyond the eight ‘Delivering as One pilots’ there is far more co-ordination between our organisations on the ground than the UN is generally given credit for. There is more joint programming in many countries as we combine our strengths to respond to emerging challenges. In the future it is likely that more of our funding will be allocated to initiatives which see a number of our organisations working together in the field.

UNDP and WFP have certainly got the message. UNDP was WFP’s fourth largest UN field partner last year, with projects spanning across 43 countries – from capacity building and project design, to disaster preparedness, early warning systems and contingency assessments.

We can certainly collaborate further on advice to governments on social protection schemes which are so important at this time of crisis.

As UNDP Administrator, I want our agency to be supportive of the mandates of all its fellow agencies – and to use its facilitating and convening role in the system to help get results for the people we serve together.

WFP has developed, for example, the very important Purchase for Progress initiative to buy surplus food from local farmers’ associations. Are there ways in which we could work with WFP to enhance the capacity of those local associations to work with you?

UNDP does important work on early recovery from crisis – clearly there are synergies with WFP which is also on the ground throughout a crisis where food supply and livelihoods are destroyed. WFP has a key role in the transition from relief to development.

For example, UNDP and WFP are currently supporting Malawi’s ability to handle risks from the effects of climate change. This kind of collaboration makes sense : many of WFP’s emergency response operations have disaster risk mitigation components, such as tree planting and terracing. And UNDP helps develop the institutions which design and implement disaster risk reduction measures, and embed them in national development strategies.
We also need to join forces in promoting early recovery from crisis caused by conflict. Countries trying to emerge from conflict have too often seen its recurrence when a peace dividend was lacking. Laying the foundations for recovery and longer term development will reduce the need for humanitarian assistance on an ongoing basis.

With demand from sixty countries last year, UNDP’s role is to support a movement from crisis and humanitarian support to recovery as soon as possible – and through the Resident Co-ordinator function to co-ordinate with other agencies, like WFP, which play a significant role.

UNDP works in many post-conflict countries helping to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former fighters; support employment generation; promote the rule of law; and help build state functions, including at the local level.

In many instances our early recovery work dovetails well with what WFP does. WFP’s “food for assets” programmes, whereby community members are provided food in exchange for carrying out new infrastructure projects, goes together with UNDP’s work to rebuild livelihoods. And, as is the case in Sudan, WFP offers food assistance as an incentive for ex-combatants to abandon weapons.

So your Executive Director and I have agreed today to get our top officials working on how we can work more effectively together on early recovery – moving beyond the our current ad hoc, individual country level co-ordination towards a more strategic approach based on a thorough understanding of what each other has to offer.

I hope that through the work of the UNDG and the High Level Committee on Management chaired by your Executive Director, we can also make good progress on clearing away the administrative hurdles which can sometimes make joint efforts seem more burdensome than business as usual was!

At earlier stages of the reform in the UN development system, there was a lot of debate about the Resident Co-ordinator system for which UNDP is the custodian. Now that the new accountability framework is in place and the responsibilities and roles are better established and understood, my strong impression is that those concerns have largely dissipated.

It is of course inherent in the Resident Co-ordinator function that a number of hats are worn simultaneously – an RC is UNDP’s Resident Representative, and often the Designated Official for UN Security, the Humanitarian Co-ordinator and, in crisis countries, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General supporting an integrated UN mission. These multiple functions do lead to numerous responsibilities and rising expectations from many of our stakeholders. We need the best and brightest coming from across our agencies to be empowered 21st century Resident Co-ordinators.

The concept of mutual accountability between the Resident Co-ordinator and the UN Country Team for the delivery of development results now lies at the centre of the accountability structure and the performance appraisal system.

A huge priority for our Country Teams now is accelerating progress on the MDGs with their target date of 2015.
WFP has a particular focus on MDG1 and its target of reducing hunger in our world.

Next September at the General Assembly, there will be a high level event on the MDGs. To prepare for that the UN Development Group will need to focus, country-by-country, on clearheaded analyses of where the bottlenecks to MDG achievement are, and what can be done working in partnership with programme countries and all development stakeholders to overcome them.

Over the next three years, 90 new UN Development Assistance Frameworks will be established. This is an incredible opportunity to think more strategically about how, working together, we can accelerate progress on the MDGs and the other goals which loom large in nations’ development strategies.

The UNDG this month will approve new, simplified guidelines and procedures for the UNDAFs. I have recently written to the Resident Co-ordinators and Country Teams, urging them to give priority to MDG achievement and to the huge climate agenda in those UNDAF negotiations. I have urged them to keep ongoing UNDAFs under review; and to re-position programmes as necessary to meet new and emerging challenges, such as tackling the food crisis.

I have also noted that developing countries are increasingly looking to the UN Country Teams for strategic advice, policy options, and capacity building support – and that we will need to review our skills mix and transform ourselves to stay relevant in the future.

And, in that future, it is clear that food security strategies and policies are going to play a much bigger role. The MDG on hunger cannot be met without leadership, good policy, and focused action. WFP is right to be continually reminding us all of the critical importance of this work.

It is to be hoped that the Food Summit taking place here next week will also usefully focus world attention on the importance of food security to achieving the MDGs, and the need for the pledges and commitments made to the world’s hungry people to be honoured.

In conclusion, I am committed to strengthening even further UNDP’s partnership with WFP, and indeed with all stakeholders in development who can make a contribution towards the achievement of internationally agreed development goals.

There is much we can all accomplish together through close co-operation. And within the UN Development Group, we can all contribute to greater co-ordination and effectiveness in what we do.

Working in that way we can make progress towards meeting the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals – even in these challenging times.