The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading humanitarian organization saving lives and changing lives, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Food and food-related assistance lie at the heart of the struggle to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. In 2019, WFP assisted 97 million people–the largest number since 2012 – in 88 countries. On any given day, WFP has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need. Every year, we distribute more than 15 billion rations at an estimated average cost per ration of US$ 0.61. These numbers lie at the roots of WFP’s unparalleled reputation as an emergency responder one that gets the job done quickly at scale in the most difficult environments.
WFP’s efforts focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. Two-thirds of our work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict. Adopted just over a year after the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the World Food Programme (WFP)’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 aligns the organization’s work to the 2030 Agenda’s global call to action, which prioritizes efforts to end poverty, hunger and inequality, encompassing humanitarian as well as development efforts. The Strategic Plan is guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth in the 2030 Agenda, in particular SDG 2 on ending hunger and SDG 17 on revitalizing global partnerships for implementation of the SDGs. It ushers in a new planning and operational structure, including the implementation of results-based country portfolios that will maximize WFP’s contribution to governments’ efforts towards achieving the SDGs. Responding to emergencies and saving lives and livelihoods – either through direct assistance, or by strengthening country capacities – remains at the heart of WFP’s operations, especially as humanitarian needs become increasingly complex and protracted.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is governed by the WFP Executive Board, which consists of 36 Member States and provides intergovernmental support, direction and supervision of WFP’s activities. The organization is headed by an Executive Director, who is appointed jointly by the UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Executive Director is appointed for fixed five-year terms and is responsible for the administration of the organization as well as the implementation of its programmes, projects and other activities. Since 2017, the post has been held by David Beasley. WFP also has one Deputy Executive Director and three Assistant Executive Directors with specific briefs. The organization’s direction is mapped out in its Strategic Plan, which is renewed every four years. The 2017–2021 Strategic Plan aligns WFP with the 2030 Agenda, focusing on ending hunger and contributing to revitalized global partnerships to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. WFP relies entirely on voluntary contributions for its funding. Its principal donors are governments, but the organization also receive donations from the private sector and individuals.
September 1962, northern Iran. An earthquake strikes the area of Boein Zahra. More than 12,000 people die. Thousands of houses are destroyed. Cataclysmic for its victims, the tremor is also a baptism of fire for the World Food Programme: the institution has only existed for a matter of months. Even so, it quickly sends survivors 1,500 metric tons of wheat, 270 tons of sugar and 27 tons of tea. Created (at the behest of US President Dwight Eisenhower) as an experiment to provide food aid through the UN system, WFP is to be reassessed within three years. As crises multiply, the experiment proves its worth. A typhoon makes landfall in Thailand. Newly independent Algeria must repatriate and feed its war refugees. In every case, WFP rises to the task. Its mission is emergency aid, but also rehabilitation. A first development programme is launched in 1963 for Nubians in Sudan. That same year, WFP’s first school meals project – in Togo – is approved. The principle of food aid as a central plank of emergency and development aid gains ground. In 1965, WFP is enshrined as a fully-fledged UN programme: it is to last for “as long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable”.
Mobilisation of Funds
Since WFP has no independent source of funds, all donations either in cash or in-kind must be accompanied by the cash needed to move, manage and monitor WFP food assistance. WFP’s funding comes from various domains like governments, corporations and individuals. Governments are the principal source of funding for WFP; the organization receives no dues or portions of the UN assessed contributions. On an average, over 60 governments underwrite the humanitarian and development projects of WFP. All government support is on an entirely voluntary basis. Through corporate-giving programmes, individual companies can make a vital contribution to fighting hunger. Corporate donations of cash, product or services can help free up scarce resources to help WFP feed more hungry people. In turn, corporations engage their employees, customers and other stakeholders in a vital, life-saving mission. Recent donations from private and not-for-profit entities have included frontline support to several emergency operations; expertise to enhance WFP’s logistics and fundraising capacities; and critical cash for school feeding.
Working of UNWFP
By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community has signalled its determination to transform lives to an unprecedented degree by 2030. This commitment extends to reaching SDG 2, on achieving Zero Hunger, and SDG 17, on partnering to support implementation of the SDGs, goals that require extraordinary levels of technical know-how and operational capability to achieve. While responsibility for eradicating hunger and malnutrition lies with the national governments, WFP has committed to working with them as they advance toward fulfilling these goals. Multiple contingencies complicate the picture. Nations are at varying stages of overall development, with different economic systems, social and demographic profiles, poverty levels, or agricultural and food distribution capacities. Some countries are at peace; others, at war. Protracted conflict, as seen in Syria, has a vastly detrimental effect on food security.
Every year, the World Food Programme (WFP) supports tens of millions of people whose food security is threatened by natural disasters, conflict, climate events or other causes. Our effectiveness in responding depends on our ability to understand the local context, choose the best type of assistance and, to the extent possible, predict the occurrence or reoccurrence of crises. This, in turn, requires reliable intelligence on the driving factors behind every situation we face and the capacities that exist on the ground to address them. Drawing on the expertise of analysts from different backgrounds – including climate and food security experts, economists, market and supply chain analysts – WFP processes primary information from the field and data gathered from other sources, to create a picture as complete as possible and inform its operations.
WFP’s analyses – which are also made available to partners and other external actors – span identifying vulnerable communities and assessing their levels of food insecurity; reviewing climate-related data to determine how seasonality can affect people’s access to and availability of food; understanding the role of climate change as a driver of food crises; studying markets; and weighing the strengths and weaknesses of local supply chains and retail sectors.
Once focused on the delivery of food to hungry people, programme design at the World Food Programme (WFP) continues to evolve into a much more elaborate function in response to an increasingly complex humanitarian and development environment. This is because, responding to the evolving nature of food insecurity and international development assistance, the shift from food aid to food assistance has repositioned WFP from a provider of food to that of broader hunger solutions. This has opened up a palette of programming options, both in terms of the objectives pursued (often more than one) and the best way to achieve them. Each of these options, in turn, is subject to comprehensive assessments, analyses, consultations and evaluation procedures.The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge global development as requiring both multi-disciplinary and cross-cutting efforts. The SDGs’ interdependent and mutually reinforcing nature supposes a much higher level of harmonization than before, both within WFP and between WFP and its partners.
Tariq Ahmad Safapuri teaches at DoFT,IUST Awantipora and specializes in food security and sustainable development.