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World Food Day: Weathering The Storm

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Midway through the last century, the developed world decided to quit turning a blind eye to poverty and hunger. Led first by FDR, who dreamed of a world "free from want," agencies were set up and tasked with understanding and conquering hunger. Among those was the 1963 establishment of the United Nations World Food Programme - now the world's largest humanitarian agency.

Some half century has passed and an enormous amount of good work has been done. Yet as we take pause today, on World Food Day, there are more than 850 million chronically hungry people worldwide, nearly 90 percent of whom are women and children.

And the sad reality is that it is about to get worse.

World population is growing, and it is growing fastest in the least developing countries. Between now and 2050, the world's population is expected to grow from its current 6.7 billion to 9.1 billion people. About one billion of those will be born in Africa, a continent under the scourge of more frequent and more severe droughts and floods, and the threat of even more severe weather from climate change.

Meanwhile, the prices of wheat, maize, sorghum and other food commodities is soaring - making food less affordable for the world's most vulnerable and raising WFP's food costs by over 50 percent in the last 5 years alone.

These demographic trends, food price increases, changing climate and a 30 percent decline in food aid in the past decade combined could deliver a perfect storm of rising hunger.

We must get ahead of this storm and plow our hard earned knowledge and understanding of combating hunger back into the field. Over the past 150 years, farmers in many nations have broken the cycle of abject hunger and poverty - from Sweden to Ireland to nations like Chile and Vietnam today. We must tackle hunger at its root, replicating these successes where possible.

We cannot achieve our goals on our own. At WFP, we rely on donor governments, recipient governments, the private sector, ministry officials, local institutions, community leaders and individual families to aid us as we fight hunger.

When hunger hits the headlines, as it did when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit in 2005 or during last year's 32-day conflict in Lebanon, it is easier to find needed partners. Today, in one of the largest humanitarian operations in history, we feed 3.1 million people in Darfur alone. More often, we are working behind the scenes, deep on the frontlines of hunger where the news cameras rarely venture. We reach 20 million children a year in schools and millions more with our food-for-work programs that can tip the balance for families on the brink of survival or in refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of people, unable to work, depend on our rations while they wait to go home.

As we've done this hard work of feeding those in need, we've learned lessons that we are increasingly seeking to transfer to governments so they can prevent hunger.

In the last 10 years, WFP has been able to end its operations in some 30 countries. Quietly, but effectively, in conjunction with a whole range of partners, we have been helping ensure freedom from want for millions of people.

While demographic, climate change and commodity prices appear to be working against us right now, science and education are on our side. Not only do we now know more than we did a generation ago, about everything from greater crop yields to more effective food aid, we hold the potential to even greater knowledge. The persistent work of applying what we've learned as we fed hundreds of millions in the past will help us break the cycle of hunger in the future. But we must also remain vigilant and generous in meeting emergency needs to ensure we stay ahead of the perfect storm.