United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Madam Ban Soon-taek travelled from Vienna, Austria, to Bern, Switzerland, in the afternoon of Sunday, 27 April.
On Monday morning, the Secretary-General visited the offices of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which was founded in 1874 and this year celebrated its sixtieth anniversary as a specialized agency of the United Nations. The Secretary General met with its Director-General, Edouard Dayan, and his staff.
At UPU headquarters, the Secretary-General opened the biannual United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, which coordinates a range of issues facing the world and United Nations organizations. At this spring session, talks focused on the crisis in rising food prices, the safety and security of United Nations personnel and climate change issues.
Later that day, the Secretary-General met with the President of the Swiss Confederation, Pascal Couchepin, after which he attended an official dinner hosted by Mr. Couchepin. The discussions with President Couchepin and with Micheline Calmy-Rey, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, touched on the food crisis, Kosovo and the need for coherence within the United Nations system.
Early on Tuesday morning, the Secretary-General gave a press conference in Bern with Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank; and Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization. The Secretary-General summarized the conclusions reached during the discussions held between the heads of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes concerning the dramatic escalation of food prices worldwide. He said the rise in food costs poses an unprecedented challenge of global proportions, and that there was an agreement on a series of concrete measures that need to be taken in the short, medium and long terms.
The Secretary-General said: “The first and immediate priority issue that we all agreed was that we must feed the hungry,” with the Chief Executives Board calling on the international community, and in particular developed countries, to urgently and fully fund the emergency requirement of $755 million for the World Food Programme (WFP).
The other main priority, he said, is that we must ensure food for tomorrow, by, among other things, providing support to farmers so that, in the coming years we do not see even more severe food shortages. Journalists addressed their questions to members of the panel, as well as to the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, and Lennart Båge, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The Chief Executives Board issued a communiqué wrapping up its discussions in Bern, announcing a task force on the global food crisis that would be established immediately under the leadership of the Secretary-General, bringing together the heads of the United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the Bretton Woods institutions and relevant parts of the United Nations Secretariat.
The task force would be coordinated by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, in New York, with Senior United Nations System Influenza Coordinator, David Nabarro, in Geneva as Deputy Coordinator of the task force, which is expected to meet in the first week of May.
In the communiqué, the Secretary-General calls on world leaders to make every effort to participate in the High-Level Conference on Food Security to be held in Rome from 3 to 5 June.
After leaving Bern, the Secretary-General travelled to Geneva, where he launched the “Geneva Lecture Series”. During the lecture, the Secretary-General addressed “the challenge of rising food prices that is a crisis for the most vulnerable populations. It threatens to undo all our good work,” he said, qualifying the situation as “deplorable and unacceptable”. Taking as examples the case of some of the African countries he recently visited, the Secretary-General added: “If not managed properly, it could touch off a cascade of related crises affecting trade, economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world […] that is why we must act, with a greater sense of urgency and decisiveness.” We can, he added, deal with the global food crisis, saying: “We have the resources. We have the knowledge. We know what to do.” The lecture was attended by several hundred people in Geneva and was followed by lengthy applause from the audience. For an hour and a half, the Secretary-General fielded questions on development, human rights and United Nations reforms, as well as on the situation in Zimbabwe and the upcoming Olympic Games. (See Press Release SG/SM/11541)
The Secretary-General spent the day on Wednesday at his offices in Geneva, before departing on Thursday morning to London, to chair a meeting of the principals of the Middle East Quartet.