Key steps to ending hunger
World Food Day Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme answers questions on world hunger and gives insight on how we should act together against hunger.
We can all understand the value of a daily hot meal to support a child's physical health. What are the other benefits?
It undervalues school meals to see them only as a solution to undernourishment and malnutrition– although in many cases, the daily school meal is the only meal a child may receive. The fact is, school meals are also part of a wider strategy to confront the causes of educational disadvantage and to reverse underachievement. School meals draw children into the classroom, and are an incentive for parents to keep them there. And providing the food which makes up school meals represents a potential lucrative and sustainable market for local smallholder farmers that could help them break out of subsistence agriculture.
What kind of food does the WFP provide, and how?
WFP provides in-kind assistance: staples such as oil, flour, rice and cereal, frequently fresh fruit and vegetables, and specialised foods designed specifically for young children. But also, more and more often, and wherever possible, cash and voucher assistance. These cash-based transfers are offered through debit cards, electronic vouchers, mobile phone credit, and sometimes hard cash. In-kind assistance can be irreplaceable in some emergencies when food is unavailable but where markets are still functioning, cash empowers households to diversify their food intake and often stimulates the local economy at the same time. No two hunger situations or national contexts are alike, so each response is tailored to meet the specific needs and circumstances.
How are you seeing gender disparity affected in the communities you assist?
At WFP, we see the correlation between food security and the status of women all the time. Where women have food, children will eat. Where women grow food, entire communities eat and live better. Conversely, discrimination and violence against women and girls exacerbates food insecurity. This is why in many places, we create protected spaces for women during food distributions. In parts of Africa, we supply women with fuel-efficient stoves which not only supports better health but also spares them long walks to gather firewood, which can lead to robbery or assault. And wherever possible, we distribute the food (or cash, as the case may be) directly to women, empowering them to use the assistance in the best interest of their families.
How does WFP ensure sustainability for children, once an emergency relief campaign ends?
It’s almost never the case that we arrive in a country, distribute relief assistance, and get straight back out. Relief operations generally need a recovery element, which – funding permitting – means that we continue to work with governments and other partners to strengthen food security once the most urgent needs have been satisfied. School meals for instance are an extremely effective measure that bridges the gap between emergency relief and development. And even as we provide school meals, we build the capacity of governments to take over this function and consolidate school meals into their long-term national programmes.
What do you hope will be the main long-term impacts of ShareTheMeal?
This digital version of sharing a meal is a practical way in which a whole new generation can act to end hunger. The Sustainable Development Goals apply universally to all nations, rich and poor, donor and recipient, and ShareTheMeal makes this community of purpose tangible between individuals. It is one of several innovations, some of them interactive, that we’ve deployed to bolster support for achieving the food security of vulnerable people. Technology is our partner. Whether it’s smart phones to transfer cash assistance or measure food prices; satellite data to monitor crop seasons and model food security levels; or GPS and guided parachutes for airdrops – we hope all these tools and many more technological innovations contribute to an unstoppable momentum, helping us achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.