UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks to the WFP Executive Board

As prepared for delivery

23 June 2022
Madagascar. A woman carries her young son while he eats a ready-to-use therapeutic food.

ROME, 23 June 2022 – "Board President Ashan, Executive Director Beasley, Excellencies, Friends,

"Thank you. I am honored to join you today and humbled by what I have heard.

"I am very happy to be in Rome – home to the three most important global food and agriculture organizations: WFP, FAO, and IFAD. Individually and collectively, you are helping feed the world.

"And I am proud of the work UNICEF and WFP are doing to strengthen our partnership so we can reach the most vulnerable communities more efficiently – and save more lives.

"Together, UNICEF and WFP will call for prioritized investment in nutrition from the first 1,000 days of life through the school years.

"We will work together to protect and promote diets, services, and practices that support nutrition, growth, and learning among school-age children.

"We will unite in efforts to scale up cash transfer programmes and integrate them with nutrition services.

"I give you my personal commitment to carry forward this profoundly important work as UNICEF Executive Director.

"But today, I want to focus on our most urgent shared challenge: the food and nutrition emergency, which is right in front of us.

"Like all of us, I am deeply concerned by the escalating hunger crisis unfolding around the world.

"It is a compound crisis like no other, linking conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic to create the conditions for severe food and nutrition insecurity -- now exacerbated by the impact of the war in Ukraine on the global food supply.

"I believe we must take urgent, collective action to reach the most vulnerable people – especially women and children who are already dangerously malnourished – for whom the current situation isn’t just a risk. It is a catastrophe.

"During my first weeks as Executive Director, I visited Kandahar province in Afghanistan, where I met many mothers and children facing severe acute malnutrition and seeking urgent therapeutic care.

"I will never forget a young mother I met there. When I put my arm around her as a gesture of comfort, I could feel nothing but bones. Her baby’s fragility was heartbreaking. That baby is only one among millions of young children in a similar situation.

"In April, I visited the Somali region of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, where the worst consecutive droughts since the 1980s are wreaking extreme harm.

"And I know we all fear the worst is yet to come – famine. But we must refuse to let that happen ever again.

"UNICEF and WFP now have a unique opportunity – and I would argue, a historic duty -- to co-develop an ambitious, complementary vision to avert a hunger and nutrition crisis on a scale not seen in more than a generation.

"UNICEF stands shoulder to shoulder with WFP in every effort to prevent malnutrition in vulnerable communities.

"In countries of severe food insecurity, UNICEF is actively supporting WFP’s efforts to make food assistance available at scale.

"Vulnerable women and children need concerted malnutrition prevention -- and when prevention fails, urgent therapeutic feeding and care.

"To treat more children, more effectively, UNICEF and WFP will work to make routine early detection of wasting an integral part of routine services for children, women, and families.

"For those severely malnourished children who are so weak that wheat and soy cannot save them, UNICEF will ensure the availability of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods for every child who needs it.

"This linked approach has never been more essential, or more urgent. Just yesterday, UNICEF issued a global media alert, warning that since the start of this year, the escalating hunger crisis is pushing one child every 60 seconds into severe malnutrition in the 15 worst affected countries.

"That’s almost 8 million children under 5 at risk of death from severe wasting unless they receive immediate therapeutic feeding and care – with the number rising by the minute.

"This comes on top of existing high levels of malnutrition in places like the Horn of Africa and the Central Sahel.

"The scale of the crisis demands an unprecedented response from UNICEF, WFP, and our partners around the world. I am encouraged and heartened to hear about the collective efforts of so many to meet this challenge.

"But more donor support is needed. Food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages, combined with inflationary pressures, are causing prices to soar almost everywhere, and for everyone.

"And that includes the price of RUTF for the treatment of severe malnutrition among the most vulnerable children. The price of this miracle peanut paste has already shot up by 16 per cent this year.

"We know that needs will continue to rise. The challenges to children will grow. If we want to reach these children, we need to optimize the way we work together.

"UNICEF and WFP have agreed on a comprehensive partnership framework to address the most life-threatening forms of undernutrition in fragile contexts more effectively. Let’s implement this Framework at scale, wherever our joint action is needed.

"Across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, our teams are developing joint responses to meet the nutritional needs of millions of women and children, and to strengthen our joint efforts.

"With so much at stake, we must continue to cooperate and collaborate with one ultimate goal in mind: to maximize the results we achieve for the vulnerable communities we serve.

"Again, I offer you my wholehearted personal commitment to this endeavor. I believe it is the best way forward for our respective organizations and for all the children, families, and communities we are mandated to help.

"There has never been a greater need for us to come together in closer partnership – and I look forward to our work together in the coming years.  

"Thank you."


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