UN lecture held; World Food Programme, Syria

On Oct. 27, World Food Programme, or WFP, Senior Communications Officer Gerald Bourke, held a discussion with students,  faculty and staff, as well as members of the community on the WFP’s involvement in Syria.

Bourke is currently a New York based spokesperson for WFP; previously he was a spokesperson for its operations in the DPRK and China, starting in 2001. He was a Senior Donor Relations Officer at its headquarters in Rome, a Senior Liaison Officer in the office of the Deputy Executive Director and then was a Senior External Relations Officer in New York for four years.

Prior to joining the UN, Gerald was a foreign correspondent for more than 20 years, working mostly in Africa and Asia.

The lecture began at 4 p.m. in the Miller Conference Room of the Henry Student Center.

Bourke began the lecture with an overview of the WFP.

Voluntarily funded, WFP is the largest humanitarian organization in practice helping approximately 80 countries at present and feeding 80 million people per year.

The organization typically aids counties affected by war and natural disaster, such as Iraq, Africa and Syria.

Bourke explained that while strides are being made, the most recent decision of the United Nations will hopefully further support the group’s mission.

On Sept. 10, 2014 the UN decided that the Sustainable Development Goals would include eradication of hunger.

The goal states, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” as its overall basis. The timeline is set for 2030.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Bourke explained. “[We] will need the commitments of governments… enthusiasm, energy will need to be sustained if we are to get there.”

Bourke cited statistics claiming that if world hunger were to be eradicated, the annual investment needed would be $260 million per year, and the global Gross Domestic Product will increase 5 percent.

Bourke explained that while WFP is doing everything they can to offer assistance in affected countries, money is always an issue.

“We’re always short which means there are those on our list who will go without our rations,” he said.

While the organization focuses on immediate emergencies, Bourke explained that it is challenged with devoting resources in the long term.

He said that responses to emergencies need to be localized in the communities and long term resources need to be established.

With the current Syrian crisis, Bourke explained that at present 4 million people are being fed within the country but there are 8-9 million individuals who have been displaced.

“You can negotiate with governments inside of Damascus much of the day and at night… the non-government factions,” Bourke explained.

It is the constant negotiate and trust building within these affected lands that allows for WFP to enter these countries and aid the people.

“It’s about building trust… and patience… The people who do this are nothing short of heroic,” he said.

Bourke explained that it’s not just the impact of the crisis within Syria, but the effect that the displaced refugees have on neighboring countries.

At present, 25 percent of Lebanon’s population is Syrian refugees which has proved to be a burden on the host country.

While parts of the international community have reached out to support Syrian efforts, much has not.

“Some are ashamed of themselves for not being part of the political fix,” Bourke said.

In December 2014, WFP had to leave Syria due to lack of funds. However, after a campaign to bring back resources they were able to resume operations.

The lecture concluded with a Q&A with members of the audience.

The next United Nations lecture will take place on Nov. 17. For more information, contact Dr. Andrew Miller at [email protected].