Media Center

Press Release


  July 30, 2008

Calling for vulnerability analysis as an integral part of the strategy to combat the current food crisis, the World Food Program’s (WFP) Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, said today the Organization of American States (OAS) and her global agency could work together immediately on best practices for an early warning system.

Haiti has been identified as the world’s hardest hit nation in the global food crisis, prices having soared 80 percent. In another dire warning, Sheeran said that throughout the Americas, price increases are expected to push an additional 15 million into vulnerability and below the poverty line.

In making the case for early warning systems, the head of the United Nations agency predicted that we are entering an era in which farmers are not going to know how much rainfall they are going to have. “We are going to need early warning systems hard-wired into every country and every agriculture producing area,” said Sheeran, also accentuating the need “to keep tabs on the vulnerability of populations and [on] what is causing the specific vulnerability,” which includes such factors as food prices outpacing wages.

Sheeran’s proposal came as she suggested how an existing OAS-WFP memorandum could be implemented without delay. This, in response to a question following her keynote lecture on “Confronting the Challenge of the Global Food Crisis in the Americas,” which headlined the 29th conference in the Lecture Series of the Americas, held at OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin welcomed the UN official, underscoring food security as one of the most urgent issues of our times, for the Americas and for the world as a whole. The Permanent Council’s Chairman, Ambassador Nestor Mendez of Belize, introduced Sheeran to the audience, praising her distinguished record in the U.S. Foreign Service and in international development.

The global food crisis is “a silent tsunami, traveling quietly around the globe hitting those who are most vulnerable hardest,” the WFP chief remarked. “It knows no borders. It has created perhaps the first globalized humanitarian crisis, adding an additional 130 million people to the ranks of the urgently hungry who were not there just one year ago.” But with hunger again knocking on the door of the Americas, “soaring food prices threaten to exacerbate the circumstances of the already vulnerable, and to turn back the clock on the progress made by those individuals and families who have achieved food security,” Sheeran warned.

She called on countries “to get serious about putting in an infrastructure of food security and to look at the most cost-effective, targeted ways to do so,” which, she said, is also the objective of the memorandum with the OAS. She argued that each country’s food security program must be appropriate for that nation and for its capabilities. These national programs could then be linked up regionally “in some dynamic relationship” whereby regional strategies are in place if one country is at a severe deficit.

She cited a WFP vulnerability analysis that makes comparisons between wages and food. “We could embed these systems regionally and in nations to watch that,” she suggested. “Once you have a good vulnerability analysis you can look at catching these problems early on before they become a crisis.”

Tackling the food crisis requires as well “a basic commitment to a certain level of nutritional floor,” according to the WFP Executive Director, who cited successful programs undertaken by her agency in Ethiopia. Food security systems require careful thought and investment, said Sheeran. A key part of the way forward on food security is to look at the impact of the food crisis on the most vulnerable, another area in which vulnerability analysis is useful by helping to get an accurate assessment as to where to target help. “We really have to make sure we are helping those who don’t have the resiliency to adjust,” she stated.

In her address, Sheeran touched on the contributions of various anti-hunger programs around the world, including Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” initiative to eradicate hunger; and programs in countries like Mexico that were once food aid recipients but are now donors.

Assistant Secretary General Ramdin also stressed in his overview of activities undertaken to mitigate the food crisis that a more structural, holistic response is needed. He argued that WFP support is vital to many countries, as is the need to revitalize the agricultural sector, giving more emphasis to food production, food processing and food availability from a structural perspective. “That is, fundamentally, the final solution,” he stated, explaining it will call for all involved in this process—global financial institutions, global trade organizations, the countries and regional and international organizations. He said food security will likely be a major focus when the hemisphere’s leaders gather in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, next April, for the Sixth Summit of the Americas.

Moderating the question-and-answer session after the keynote lecture was Irene Klinger, Director of the OAS Department of International Relations.

The Lecture Series of the Americas is an initiative of the OAS Department of International Relations, with support from the San Martin de Porres University in Lima, Peru, as well as the governments of the People’s Republic of China and France.

Reference: E-295/08