New York, 16 November 2020
Well, thanks very much indeed and nice to see you all colleagues. And thank you for having the opportunity to contribute to the discussions.
My starting point for this really is the same as Kristalina’s.
My first job was dealing with the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. It’s a very shocking thing to see as a young person--a million people losing their lives in such a humiliating, desperate, painful, horrible way.
But of course, that had been the story of the human species for the whole of human history before that; famines used to be absolutely ubiquitous.
My origins, I am largely Irish, my predecessors were amongst those who fled Ireland in the middle of the 19th century to avoid the famine there. And that was a circumstance that was happening all around the world for most of human history.
And the greatest achievement arguably of the human species is to put us in a position where that is no longer an ongoing feature of the human experience.
And that is the point we got to by the year 2000.
And that greatest achievement ever is now at risk. And it’s not at risk, it’s important to say, because there is suddenly a shortage of food. There’s not a shortage of food. There has never been as much food per person on the planet as there is now.
The achievement is at risk because of climate change, and conflict and now the economic contraction arising from the pandemic.
So, the question for us, I am going to put this very starkly, the question for us is, do we want to be the generation of leaders who have it as a stain on our consciences to bring back that appalling feature of the human existence?
No, we do not want to be that.
So, what do we have to do? We basically have to do four things. And we have to do them straight away.
The first thing is what Kristalina was talking about, the very poorest countries, the fragile countries, and David was talking about as well, do not have the fiscal and other policy space to give the boost to their own economies.
And the shareholders of the IFIs, the most important ones are on the call today, really do need to give the institutions, the guidance and the marching orders and the instructions to be able to provide more effective support, higher volume support faster to the most vulnerable countries. Those countries where these tragedies will play out unless we do something differently.
The second thing though is in recognition of the fact that some of the countries we are talking about do not have the institutions or the capabilities, even if they were better resourced, to reach the people in need of assistance.
We have to get better financing faster, the billions David talks about, to the World Food Programme and the Red Cross and the other NGOs who do have the delivery capacity in places like Yemen and South Sudan and Burkina Faso and other places where we will see these tragedies.
The third thing, alongside that, is recognizing the fact that what kills people in famines is mostly not the process of starvation. The process of starvation is a horrible thing, I gave a description of it when David and I were briefing the Security Council last week. But actually, the biggest killer is diseases. It’s respiratory infections, now COVID, or diphtheria, or a common cold or Dengue fever. So, we have to invest in support for basic health services and water and sanitation as well. So, the role of UNICEF and the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières and all those organizations is also very important.
And then the fourth thing is we need sufficient peace and stability for all this work to happen.
That’s why the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire is so important.
What we’ve seen unfortunately, and this is a reflection of current geopolitics, is not a calming down of things, rather an expansion of new problems. Nagorno-Karabakh. We’ve now got Western Sahara. We’ve got Ethiopia. We’ve got northern Mozambique. What we need is a calming down of all these things, particularly in places where there’s been ongoing conflict, so that there is space, if we get the money, to avoid multiple global tragedies being a stain on our consciences.
The good news is, it doesn’t cost very much to solve these problems.
It costs WFP 25 or 30 cents a day to keep a child alive. The money we are talking about is trivial, in relation to the resources available and all the decisions that have been taken rightly to protect better-off economies so far. But choices still have to be made. Unless something different happens, we are going to see multiple global tragedies play out, with huge loss of life, over the next 12 months.
So, we really need to seize the moment now to get onto a different trajectory.
On the 1st December we will set out, when we publish the Global Humanitarian Overview for 2021, exactly what needs to be done in detail across more than 50 countries. If we do those things, we will buy time, we’ll then have to get back onto a resilient economic growth development agenda.
But it will be with a very [inaudible] if we get back onto those issues if in the meantime, we have watched millions and millions of children in multiple countries lose their lives avoidably. That’s what we need to focus on right now.
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