My Quest To Learn How the United States and United Nations Are Working To #EndHunger

Did you know about 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life? Contrast that with the fact that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption -- approximately 1.3 billion tons -- gets lost or wasted annually! Every year, consumers in wealthier countries like the United States waste almost as much as 222 million tons of food – almost the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).

Sacks of World Food Program, WFP, food is seen on a truck before being dropped off for storage in warehouses. [AP Photo] 

These numbers are alarming and heartbreaking. As the United States’ Youth Observer, I’m on a quest to better understand the life-saving work that happens at the United Nations (UN) and its partner organizations as well as the role the United States plays in them. By sharing videos, pictures, and blogs, I will bring you along with me.

Just after Thanksgiving, I traveled to Rome, Italy -- home to the three principal international organizations dedicated to food and agriculture at the center of efforts to combat world hunger and promote sustainable development. The United States is the largest financial supporter of these agencies, and the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome represents the U.S. government at these organizations to help advance efforts in the areas of emergency food aid, food safety standards, agriculture, fisheries, forests, and financing for rural development.

While in Rome, I spent a day touring the World Food Program (WFP), the largest humanitarian organization working to fight global hunger, with Jonathan Dumont, the head of television communications who documents the situation in countries requiring food assistance. When reporters are unable to travel to unsecure locations, Jonathan work to brings awareness to challenges in the world’s hardest-to-reach places! 

During emergencies WFP delivers life-saving food assistance to places plagued by conflicts and natural disasters. WFP also works to help restore communities and rebuild people’s lives so they can sustainably feed their families. I was especially interested in learning about WFP’s role in the current refugee crisis. Food insecurity among refugees is incredibly high, but WFP, which is 100 percent funded by voluntary contributions, is working to provide assistance in places like war-torn Syria and neighboring countries struggling to meet the demands of incoming refugees. 

What is most revealing is the complexity of these operations. Check out what WFP has done in Syria alone:

  • About 2 million metric tons of food has been distributed since 2011.
  • 500,000 children will receive food meals from these operations.
  • 3,000 trucks are on the move every month delivering life saving aid.

WFP is mainly a decentralized organization with offices in the countries where it provides assistance. Around the world WFP has front-line team members known as field monitors going door-to-door -- including makeshift accommodation and even caves -- to find vulnerable people to connect them with assistance. At WFP Headquarters, I toured the “Operations Centre,” where maps and emergency dashboards allow WFP to plan emergency responses on a 24/7 basis. WFP uses geospatial mapping and disaster analysis automation to collect disaster related data on a global scale in order to reduce the time between when an emergency happens and the field level response.

Coming up with solutions within budget constraints requires creativity coupled with an extreme sense of urgency. During our tour, Jonathan recounted the time they used a crane to deliver food to refugees stuck in a hard-to-reach place on the Turkish border! He also told me the story of Apu Riang, a man who lost his crops and faced extreme hunger due to conflict, economic collapse, and drought in South Sudan. It is people like Apu and his family whom the WFP helps. 

Visiting WFP was very eye opening. It reinforced my commitment to continue to support the work of the UN and its partners here in Rome. The U.S. mission to the UN agencies does an incredible job of making sure that U.S. interests and values are carried out abroad and that the money we invest in helping people around the world goes to the right places.

Witnessing, first hand, the important roles young people are playing to help WFP carry out its work was also encouraging. In fact, I was excited to learn that WFP hires Junior Professional Officers and interns who help drive its mission around the world. Given my current role, watching these young people in action further inspired me to continue to both educate and empower more youth around the world to get involved and make a difference. I look forward to continuing to travel, learn more about the work of the UN and International Organizations, and propelling additional action to help meet today’s most pressing challenges.

About the Author: Nicol Perez is the fifth U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, representing an American youth voice at the United Nations General Assembly and other UN events throughout the next year.

Editor's Note: This story also appears on the United Nations Association of the United States of America’s GenUN Blog and in the Department's Modern Diplomacy publication on Medium.com.

For more information:

The setting sun as seen against St. Peter's Basilica on December 2, 2016, in Rome, Italy. [State Department photo]
Posted by Nicol Perez
December 6, 2016

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