By Ms. Ertharin Cousin
Ertharin Cousin began her tenure as the twelfth Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in April 2012. She brings more than twenty-five years of national and international non-profit, government, and corporate leadership experience focusing on hunger, food, and resilience strategies. Cousin guides the WFP in meeting urgent food needs while championing longer-term solutions to food insecurity and hunger.
Earlier this month, I boarded a plane to see for myself the impact of recurrent drought on communities of Niger. The suffering there was immense and immediate. I could tell you the stories of the mothers who are struggling to put food on the table. The stories of the families who can’t afford to buy food in the markets and the farmers who can’t grow crops. Every mother I met was focused on doing everything possible to save the lives of their children. These are important stories that demand the world’s attention, and we must do everything we can to help them.
However, the story I want to share with you is about the resilience of the women I met. In the village of Tolkobeye, I watched as men and women moved rocks along the banks of a dry river bed to build a much-needed dam. WFP provided these families with the food and cash to perform this work and the end result is a source of water for the community, even during the dry season. Such a structure means that the health and nutrition of their children won’t hinge on a season or two of rainfall. That is, if the rain comes.
The strength and resourcefulness of these families demonstrates that hunger is a problem we can solve—and that collaboration is the key to solving it. WFP is deploying game-changing initiatives to build capacity, reduce hunger, and eliminate malnutrition through our groundbreaking partnerships with national governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Thanks to tireless studies and technological advancements, our toolbox to solve hunger is large, life-changing, and cost-effective. However, the best resource we have in the face of hunger is timeless: each other.
The world’s nearly one billion people who woke up hungry this morning have not seen the proposed agenda for the upcoming G8 summit. They are counting on people like you and me to drive food and nutrition security to the top of the global agenda.
This year, G8 leaders have a critical opportunity to build on the promise of the 2009 L’Aquila Summit. By uniting public and private sector partners behind national plans, they can begin to change the face of hunger and malnutrition in the world through appropriate policies, programs, and national investments. They can scale up proven programs, share scientific breakthroughs, and improve the nutritional status of women and children.
Working together in strategic partnership across sectors—uniting leaders in the government to private sector visionaries—we can meet the urgent nutritional needs of the world’s most vulnerable while also scaling up innovative solutions that address the roots of hunger. This scope of collaboration will require the active support and engagement of G8 leaders and discourse at high-level events that set the pulse of policy discussion, like this week’s Chicago Council Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.
By investing in nutrition, we invest in the people who are building the kind of world we want to live in. Hungry women can’t move rocks. Hungry men can’t provide for their families. Hungry children can’t learn at school. Hungry people have no hope.
Landing in Niger on my first official field visit last week amidst a landscape of scorched red sand, I felt a sense of pride seeing the blue and white WFP logo on the side of the plane. For so many people across the world, it’s a symbol of food assistance arriving; of the world’s compassion; of hope. For me, however, the WFP logo says what the women and men of Niger showed me: the battle against hunger and malnutrition is winnable. Solving it begins with a small dam in a village in Niger. It begins with a family's ability to feed a hungry child. It begins with you.
Join us in calling on our leaders to make food security a global priority.