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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26741

Mrs MAY (1:02 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) poverty and hunger remain the most important challenges facing the international community;

(b) the United Nation's World Food Program (WFP) remains the most effective way of alleviating world poverty; and

(c) the WFP's mandate and mission are strongly relevant to Australia's overall humanitarian object-ives;

(2) also recognises that:

(a) the alleviation of poverty assists the building of political stability, aids in the provision of education and training, and lowers levels of sexually trans-mitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS;

(b) the work of the WFP in its “Food for Work,” program assists in the provision of much needed infrastructure in some of the world's poorest nations;

(c) the “Food for Life” program is the quickest and most effective way of providing displaced persons and those affected by natural disaster with lifesaving food when their own nation state is unable to provide assistance; and

(d) the “Food for Growth” program is a vital means of providing food to pregnant women, school children and babies who would not otherwise receive adequate food to aid their growth;

(3) understands that the Federal Government:

(a) has a large financial commitment to the World Food Program on both an ongoing and an occasional basis; and

(b) has committed $56.3 million since March 2002, including a contribution of $12.8 million to help ease the food crisis in southern Africa and a contribution of $1 million to assist the survivors of the Bam earthquake; and

(4) congratulates:

(a) the Federal Government on its ongoing support of the World Food Program; and

(b) the World Food Program on 40 years of fighting hunger and poverty.

It has been said that the single greatest issue facing the world in the modern age is hunger. Hunger affects nearly 800 million people worldwide and contributes substantially to increased incidence of the AIDS virus, civil unrest and an ongoing lack of infrastructure in some of the world's poorest nations. Before beginning, I would like to thank my colleague the member for Pearce for seconding this motion. I understand that the member for Pearce, like me, has a longstanding interest in this area, and I congratulate her on joining me in recognising that the World Food Program is the world's most important and effective tool in the war against hunger. The WFP was created for only one purpose—to fight hunger—but in its 40-year history this aid program has surpassed its initial mandate and surprised even its creators with the length and scope of its effect on the lives of some of the world's poorest people.

In September 1960 the United States President, Dwight Eisenhower, proposed to the United Nations General Assembly that `a workable scheme should be devised for providing food aid through the UN system'. The World Food Program was scheduled to go into operation in 1963 as a three-year experimental program. The first session of WFP's governing body, the intergovernmental committee, was held in February 1962. Two months later, Addeke Boerma was appointed as the WFP's first executive director.

Recently, here in parliament, I had the privilege of attending a lunch with special guest Mr James T. Morris, who is the current Executive Director of the WFP—a remarkable man who, through his organisation, has achieved some remarkable results through three simple yet effective programs. The WFP has introduced far-reaching reforms and implemented a wide range of initiatives at the policy, strategic, administrative, program and project levels. Mr Morris and the WFP understand that productive communities cannot be developed when people are hungry, therefore the WFP has implemented some exciting and well-targeted programs for those special needs areas and communities. Today I would like to touch briefly on some of those programs.

There is the WFP food for work program. In this program, food is provided in exchange for work on the building of community assets and improving rural infrastructure. Food is often a more attractive form of payment for manual labour than cash in countries with poorly developed markets and sharply fluctuating food prices. Prior to this program, workers could be paid in the local currency and, by the time they could buy food, the local currency would have been devalued to such an extent that they might only buy a few morsels instead of the feast they had worked for. The food for work programhas removed any problems the devaluation of currency causes by paying workers in food, allowing major infrastructure projects, which will be beneficial to the whole community, to be built much more effectively, with a great benefit to those who are employed on these projects. I believe the WFP is to be congratulated for helping poor people build and preserve productive assets—assets which will lead some of the world's least developed countries on the road to self-reliance and diversification.

There is also the food for life program, which is the quickest and most effective way of providing lifesaving food to displaced persons and those affected by natural disaster, when their own nation or state is unable to provide assistance. Catastrophic events and natural disasters, sometimes on a daily basis—like an earthquake, a flood, civil unrest, armed conflict or drought—often require the WFP to act quickly and urgently to respond to these emergencies as they happen. From Armenia to Indonesia, from Bangladesh to Sierra Leone, from the Sudan to Afghanistan, the WFP has been there, because the WFP is an institution that for over 40 years has embodied the principle that food should reach people when they need it, wherever they need it.

There is also the food for growth program—a program that is vital in providing food to pregnant women, schoolchildren and babies who would otherwise not receive adequate food to aid their growth. It has been said that the future of all countries can be found in our children. It is for this reason that the WFP has school feeding programs in more than 60 countries around the world, helping some 15 million children per annum. That is some record. This program allows children to grow, attend school and eventually become productive members of society. Millions of people around the world would not have survived childhood and gone on to raise healthy children of their own had they not been fed, with the WFP's assistance, at critical moments in their lives. But even with so many children helped, there are around 12 million deaths of children under the age of five from malnutrition every year around the world. The food for growth program also targets expectant mothers, allowing pregnant women to have a much better chance of giving birth to a healthy child.

The WFP's work is not just about food. It is about the future and the type of world we all want to live in. Too often we bury our heads in the sand. Life is very comfortable here in Australia. We are a wealthy country in many ways. We need to remind ourselves of our obligations to those in our world who do not enjoy the standard of living we do. Hunger is a tragedy that kills not only individuals but also the creativity, productivity and hope of those who continue to survive.

As I have said in my motion, the alleviation of poverty assists the building of political stability, aids in the provision of education and training and lowers levels of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV-AIDS. I am sure it is easy to see how food programs are beneficial to political stability, which in turn is beneficial to the long-term development of a nation, but I would like to highlight an interesting aspect of the WFP which attempts to halt the spread of AIDS. The WFP has collaborated with its partners to implement 16 different HIV specific projects. Among them is a pilot project in Armenia, where the number of newly infected people is rapidly increasing. The WFP provided food as part of a package of services that includes counselling and medical examinations. Another program is in China where the WFP worked closely with UNAIDS to bring information about the AIDS virus to over 200,000 farmers. In both of these cases, these programs have been remarkably effective.

Mr Morris and his team deserve to celebrate the past 40 years of the WFP. They have a right to celebrate the many lives saved and the communities and countries that have been rebuilt with rehabilitation and development activities that help sustain populations after the onset of a disaster. But Mr Morris and the WFP need our support. They need the continuing support of countries around the world to continue this work. I am proud to say that Australia has contributed and will continue to contribute to the WFP. It is part of Australia's aid program. In 2003-04 Australia is providing $61.1 million in core contributions to UN development and humanitarian organisations. To the WFP, we are contributing $31 million. Our investment in WFP is an investment in a hunger free world.

The statistics speak for themselves. There is enough food in the world today for every man, woman and child to lead healthy and productive lives, yet one out of every seven people on this earth is suffering from hunger. The WFP's vision is a world in which everyone has access at all times to the nourishment they need for a full life. It believes that the issue of hunger belongs at the top of the international agenda. I too believe that is where the problem should stay. I have seen for myself the poverty, hunger and disease of developing countries. I have seen what happens to young children and nursing mothers when they do not receive the proper nutritional requirements they need for growth and development. Hungry children cannot be expected to learn—to sit in a classroom and achieve—and a nursing mother without proper nutrition will give birth to an underdeveloped child.

The WFP needs help from us all. It has waged a war against hunger for 40 years and I have no doubt this will continue for another 40 years. We all need to get involved, to become aware, and of course the Australian government needs to continue its support through our overseas aid program of the World Food Program. It is important for the future of our world, our children, that this support is not only rhetoric. Words will not feed a hungry child. Food, however, will build a strong, healthy child who will become a productive member of the world community; food will help an expectant or nursing mother raise a healthy child; food will help a society build vital infrastructure; and food will help stop the spread of AIDS and civil unrest.

Congratulations to the WFP on the occasion of their 40th anniversary. To James Morris and his team, I hope they enjoy another successful 40 years, but I hope they will have both moral and financial support from the international community, including Australia, so that the programs can continue to ensure a future for our children and the children of the world. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the motion seconded?

Mrs Moylan —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.