"We are standing at the threshold of a new era in our work in breaking the cycle of hunger," Sheeran said on the first day of WFP's Executive Board meeting in Rome. "We have made progress - and I applaud the many nations that have made great gains against hunger. And yet, every five seconds, a child dies from hunger. We must - and can do - better."
Sheeran underlined WFP's commitment to the first UN Millennium Development Goal, which calls for a halving of the proportion of hungry people in the world by 2015. She noted that WFP food and nutritional assistance reaches about 10 per cent of the world's 850 million hungry, and spoke of the need for resolve to overcome the many obstacles that stand in the way of progress.
"WFP must continually analyze and adjust its strategies in a rapidly changing world. Climate change, rising commodity costs, and conflicts over resources, are among the growing challenges facing the world and WFP," she said. "As we face these daunting challenges, let me assure you that WFP will work closely with all our partners to try to get ahead of the hunger curve."
In a speech that highlighted WFP's partnerships with UN member states, other UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, and other actors on the humanitarian stage, Sheeran spoke of the agency's unique operational and logistics role, and capacity in disaster prevention, emergencies and sustainable recovery operations.
"We must build bridges between emergencies, rehabilitation and prevention to ensure that there is a firm hand-shake and a smooth hand-over between humanitarian action and long-term sustainable development activities," she said.
The Executive Board - which has a rotating membership of 36 countries - meets four times a year to review the policy and programmes of WFP. Sheeran, who was speaking to board members for the first time, gave them an overview of her first two months in office, which included trips to Sudan, Chad, and Ethiopia, where she saw at first hand the positive impact that WFP's local purchases of food have on farmers and markets.
"I met with grain traders, farmers and officials, to explore new and innovative ways of using WFP's purchasing power in local and regional markets to promote development, food security, and supply stability for small African farmers," she said. "Increasing cash contributions have made it possible for WFP to become a stable and substantial purchaser of surplus food, and not only in Africa. Globally, WFP now buys half our food from the least developed and low-income countries, up from one third only two years ago."
Executive Board members welcomed Sheeran's strategic focus, and her understanding of the importance of local procurement. They also supported her calls for a strengthening of partnerships as recommended by the UN High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence and her commitment to ensure continued transparency, accountability and credibility.
"Let us make chronic hunger a part of history," she told her audience, laying down her own challenge to the global humanitarian community. "Advances in science and technology put this dream within our grasp. One thing is for certain: the world is changing, and WFP has to change with it. For me, this is a challenge that presents us with an opportunity. With the help of all the good forces gathered here today, I am confident we can succeed."
Before joining WFP, Sheeran built up more than 20 years of management and leadership experience in diplomacy, government foundations, international journalism and business. Throughout her career - which included a posting as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department - Sheeran focussed on helping developing nations become more self-sufficient through economic empowerment.
Copy of the Executive Director's statement is available at: http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/newsroom/wfp127967.pdf
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