About the Author: Lillian deValcourt-Ayala serves as Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome.
Much of the news out of Rome last week had high entertainment value. With much of the coverage focused on Gaddhafi decked out in shades for his meetings with Italian officials and the tent set up to accommodate him and his delegation in the Villa Pamphili park, one could completely miss the fact that food security topped the agenda of two multilateral gatherings here.
At the beginning of the week, the Executive Board of the World Food Programme (WFP) held its annual meetings and focused their discussion on funding frameworks and priorities in light of the global economic slowdown.
The U.S. delegation, headed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Burnham John “Bud” Philbrook, arrived at WFP from Washington with a strong sense of pride in a recent accomplishment. Leveraging the widest range of our humanitarian assistance tools in recent memory, the U.S. is enabling the UN food agency to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Pakistani refugees fleeing the Swat valley. Going far beyond the provision of traditional American food aid, U.S. financial support of WFP’s outstanding logistics capabilities enabled the set up of 25 innovative humanitarian hubs that continue to operate despite security challenges. An infusion of U.S. cash allowed the organization to purchase emergency food rations in local and regional markets, supporting developing economies and small holder farmers. And the reprogramming of wheat already in Pakistan as well as the dispatch of U.S. commodities from a prepositioned facility in Djibouti provided another tool for WFP to rapidly respond to rising needs. Such flexible, broad-ranging support from the U.S. forms the backbone of WFP’s emergency response operation.
While the Executive Director of WFP warned G-8 leaders of darker days to come in a world where more than one billion live with chronic hunger, Secretary Clinton honored Dr. Ejeta of Ethiopia, one of Africa’s brightest lights in the fight against hunger. The Secretary also outlined seven principles that support an emerging new global approach to hunger with a strong emphasis on comprehensive investment in agriculture.
Bill Gates, Bob Geldof, and Desmond Tutu echoed the concerns of a report released by Bono’s ONE group by urging G-8 countries to deliver aid they promised to Africa. Advocacy on food security could not be more welcome at a time of such serious challenges. “Chicken Little-ing” the issue, however, can be counter-productive. The sky is not falling.
At the G-8 Development Ministerial in Rome on Friday, Acting USAID Administrator Alonso Fulgham announced President Obama’s intention to double U.S. foreign assistance by 2015. The Ministerial, under Italy’s G-8 Presidency, included a variety of developing countries to strengthen the collective response to such a crucial international issue. Widening the discussion will help bring more bright lights together in dialogue to ward off the menacing clouds.