Rice made the headlines across Asia as I arrived in Bangladesh over the weekend. Not Secretary of State Rice that is, but the staple food. The rising price of rice is setting off alarms. Everyone is talking about food. Perfect timing for me to stop here for a few days and take a look at the work of the United Nations food and agriculture agencies. A group of journalists from Morocco, Italy, India, Iraq and Qatar is joining me for the visit.
Cyclone Sidr struck within a couple hours drive of where we arrived today -- an industrial town in southwestern Bangladesh called Khulna. We'll use this outpost as our base camp to venture even further from the capital city Dhaka in the coming days.
Staff of the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) painted a vivid picture for us yesterday of the challenges that remain for cyclone recovery. Since last November, these UN organizations have done a commendable job pooling talents to assist cyclone victims generate income and rebuild their livelihoods. Their technical know-how and years of experience helping the Bangladeshi people prepare for, respond, and recover from natural disasters continues to pay off. An early warning system alerted the population to last year's approaching storm and fewer people lost lives in the immediate aftermath than in previous cyclones. Lives were also saved through WFP's rapid response. Cyclone Sidr hit at 6:00AM and WFP delivered food into the hands of men, women and children by 1:30PM the same afternoon. $5 million in food aid from the American people helped meet the urgent need.
Four months after Sidr, emergency feeding programs continue to keep malnutrition at bay. Our group hopped a short flight this morning to Jessore and stopped at the Resco Factory that through a partnership with the World Food Program produces nutritional biscuits to feed local school children. I watched as the company's overwhelmingly female workforce made and packaged the biscuits. Their employers give them literacy training and access to an on-site daycare center and group medical insurance. There I am in the photo (see above) standing right next to factory managers and the biscuits cooling as they make their way out of the oven. Refreshing to learn that the biscuits give kids the energy they need to get a good education and empower their mothers as well.
Our last visit of the day reemphasized the power of community leadership in supporting development. We were privileged to spend part of the afternoon in a lively discussion at the Imam Training Academy in Khulna with sixteen imams, many of whom live in areas affected by Cyclone Sidr. The imams are alumni of a USAID-funded, Asia Foundation-implemented educational program on modern practices of development and democracy. It was encouraging to hear them talk with candor on empowering women, protecting children, fighting terrorism, and generating economic opportunity. Through our dialogue we found a great mutual interest in our priorities and values of tolerance, diversity and social harmony. These imams are leaders of influence whose words are valued and measured by the people. Their broader view of development and collaboration with civil society is a step in the right direction.
Signing off for the night. More on food tomorrow.