WFP HEAD: TERRORISTS RECRUIT FROM THE POOR AND HUNGRY
CANBERRA - Making his first official visit to Australia, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme called for increased international food aid as one of the most effective ways to alleviate the poverty and hunger that can breed terrorism and conflict.
James Morris, WFP Executive Director, said that food security can help dispel the sense of desperation and futility that drive hungry people, especially the young, into extremist causes.
"In a climate of perpetual hunger, young people lose faith in the future," Morris said in the Australian capital Canberra. "If they do not even know where their next meal is coming from, they become easy targets for those who recruit for terrorist groups."
Morris praised the strong, steady support for food aid that Australia, a major agricultural-producer, has demonstrated over the decades. Noting that Australia has historically been among WFP's top ten donors, he paid tribute to its collaboration in building the foundations for long-lasting peace and stability in countries such as East Timor, Iraq and Indonesia.
And he welcomed a new donation from Australia announced here today for AU$12.8 (US$10) million to help ease the current food crises in Southern Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea, where millions of Africans have been brought to the brink by natural disasters, HIV/AIDS and, in some cases, failed economic and public policies.
"Once again, Australia has shows its deeply-rooted commitment to food security crises and its global humanitarian perspective," said Morris, who is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa. "We are very grateful to Australia for this generous contribution and we will work closely with them to target food aid to as many of the most vulnerable in these three areas as possible."
WFP and Australia also have a strong shared interest in the regional priorities of the Pacific Rim, Morris said, citing Australia's donation of AU$3 (US$ 2.2) million to WFP operations in North Korea in January. Australia, along with the US and EC, stepped forward in response to WFP's warnings last year that it would run out of food this month. WFP recently announced that because of the current shortfall in funds, 6.5 million people, mostly women and young children, will not receive WFP rations until fresh supplies arrive in April.
Another common priority for both Australia and WFP is HIV/AIDS. Australia is playing a leading role in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific, committing AU$200 (US$123) million over six years to fight the epidemic and AU$25 (US$20) million over three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. WFP has made HIV/AIDS one of its top priorities, supplying the food component to home-based care programmes in a growing number of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
During his five-day visit to Australia this week, Morris is meeting with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Waren Truss, among other senior government officials, and with leading NGOs RedR, World Vision and CARE.
With the spectre of global terrorism and conflict overshadowing the early 21st century, WFP said that new strategies for aid, especially food aid, must be formulated to redress the inequalities which are often at the root of much of the developing world's disaffection with the West.
Morris cited school feeding programmes which, by giving poor children a good education and a nutritious diet, combat the poverty and ignorance from which extremism flourishes.
"For around AU$0.24 (US$0.19) a day, we can give a child lunch in school and hope for the future," Morris said, inviting others to join WFP's school feeding campaign to raise money and awareness for this activity.
Food aid can also be a strong incentive for soldiers to demobilize once peace returns to conflict-stricken countries, Morris said, providing them with a concrete alternative to fighting. For example, WFP gave food aid to 7,000 child soldiers in Sierra Leone as a way of stabilising them, encouraging them to go back to school and protecting them from re-recruitment by armed gangs.
Morris said he looks forward to a strengthened partnership with Australia as the unprecedented requirements for food aid and the uncertainty created by the terrorist threat will put new pressures on leading donor countries like Australia and aid agencies like WFP.
"I am confident that we will find new models of partnership, especially in the Asia-Pacific region," Morris said. "Together we will show the poor, hungry and uneducated that they have not been abandoned by the world."
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
For more information please contact:
Regional Public Information Officer, WFP/Asia
Tel: +66-1-701 9208
Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome