WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME
 

Statement 

by

James T. Morris
Executive Director

at the
United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children

New York
9 May 2002




Chairman, Secretary-General, Youth Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The World Food Programme's mission is to fight hunger - to provide food for the hungry, wherever and whenever they are in need.

A hungry child has very little chance in this world - especially very little opportunity to learn.

What would you say to a hungry child? How would you justify hunger? Could you?

Those questions have troubled me for a long time, but much more so since I became Executive Director of the World Food Programme two months ago.

There are 300 million children whose lives are scarred by hunger - more than the entire population of the United States. These children deserve an explanation from us. Why is it that some days they have food, and others not? Why is it that they feel so tired and they are sick so often? Why is it that they do not grow like other children?
I have been struggling to find some answers.
Maybe an economist could sit down with a hungry child and offer a good explanation. The issue is, in fact, very complicated and differs from place to place. But if I had to give a simple and honest answer to a hungry little boy or girl in Ethiopia, I would say: We - all of us adults -- have not done enough to help you. We have failed you. That is why you are hungry.

There is no single solution to the hunger of a malnourished child in North Korea, southern Sudan or Angola. We need long-term investments in agriculture, a stronger global trading system, and even new types of crops. But my concern -- and the World Food Programme's concern -- is the children who are hungry today.

What can be done? For starters, we must use food aid to help hungry children now. We cannot wait for economic development to reach these children and change their lives. That sounds simple enough, but last year, WFP fed only about 42 million children. There are many many millions we did not reach.

We must do more. That is why the World Food Programme is aggressively promoting Global School Feeding and a greater focus on nutrition for pregnant women and their youngest children.

For the modest sum of 19 US cents, 22 euro cents, or 25 yen a day, WFP can provide a meal in school that both helps end childhood hunger and promotes education. Through school feeding we have seen enrollments literally double and the number of girls attending school rise sharply.

There is no comparable opportunity available in the world to make such a dramatic difference in the life of a child, especially in their early years. The leverage, the return on this human investment is powerful. Getting girls into school is especially critical. Illiterate girls get married as early as 11 years of age and may have up to seven children before they reach 18. In contrast, girls who go to school marry later, space births and have half as many children.

Basic education is the best investment we can make to improve the conditions of the poor. A UNESCO study showed that in countries with an adult literacy rate of about 40 percent, GNP per capita averaged just $210 annually; in those with at least 80 percent literacy rates, GNP per capita was $1000.

In particular I would draw your attention and that of the G-8 delegations to our initiative with the New Partnership for African Development. Together with the leadership of NEPAD we are working to help bring 40 million young Africans into primary school. In-school meals and take-home rations could enable most of these children -- otherwise destined to illiteracy and poverty -- to benefit from a primary education. We are calling on the G-8 -- and, in fact, all donors -- to help us reach this goal by 2015. The initial annual investment required would be $300 million in 2003, to be gradually increased to $2 billion in 2015.

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial two weeks ago on hunger. I quote: "A Reuters reporter recently asked a Guatemalan farmer, Luisa Vasquez, how many children she had. 'Three dead and four living,' she answered. What killed the three? The answer could be seen in the telltale swollen belly of the toddler clinging to her leg: easily preventable illness brought on by malnutrition."

No strategy to promote development will ever succeed if we ignore people like Luisa Vasquez. Hunger is inherited in families like Luisa's.
Feeding programs for women and young children are among WFP's highest priorities. We have to reach them at critical points in their lives or the scourge of hunger will pass from one generation to the next. Last year, WFP provided food in 46 countries to over one million pregnant and lactating mothers, 700,000 infants in therapeutic feeding programs, and over three million children in supplementary feeding programs. Our colleagues at UNICEF and NGOs like Save the Children and CARE reached many needy mothers and children as well. But so long as there are women like Luisa Vasquez we know we have failed the world's children.

At Monterey, the major donors announced substantial increases in funds for development. I ask each and every donor: Will you help us feed children? Will you help us get them into school? Will you help us see that poor mothers are well nourished and do not pass their hunger on to yet another generation?

Let's be partners ... partners in standing up for hungry children, partners in seeing that the young are educated. Please use your reservoir of political goodwill to move issues in support of hope and opportunity for children to the top of the world's agenda.

I am reminded of a beautiful saying Mother Theresa was fond of: "We can do no great things ... only small things with great love." It is a small thing to feed a hungry child - a small thing we can do together.