WFP Regional Centers in Panama, proud of the Nobel Peace Prize
In a world of excessive mass consumption and apparent abundance, 690 million people go to bed every night unsure of what they will eat the next day. Food scarcity was already a priority issue on the global development agenda as is reflected in Sustainable Development Goal No. 2: Zero Hunger. However, the current health crisis has accentuated this reality: according to the World Food Program (WFP), Latin America and the Caribbean will see a 269% increase in the number of people in a situation of severe food insecurity during the next few months. Medium-term expectations are not encouraging either: according to the United Nations (2020), the unstoppable growth of the planet’s inhabitants, which is expected to reach 9,700 million people by 2050, will directly affect the production and distribution of foods.
In order to mitigate this phenomenon, the WFP was established: it is the largest humanitarian agency in the world and in the United Nations system, providing food assistance to millions of people around the world, often in extremely dangerous conditions and difficult access. This mission has earned the organization the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, an award given by the Nobel Prize Committee, that will be delivered virtually this December, highlighting their efforts in the fight against hunger, in addition to their contribution to the improvement of conditions of peace in conflict-affected areas.
In this way, the WFP joins other agencies that have been awarded the prize, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), among others.
Panama, WFP’s regional headquarters for Latin America
The WFP Regional Office in Panama is based in the City of Knowledge, from here, operations are coordinated for 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot for the region (UNHRD) managed by this agency is also located in Panama. “The country is proud to be the headquarters of one of the regional offices and logistics centers of the WFP since they play a vital role in supporting those affected by conflicts, people who suffer from disasters,” says Alexia Dohert, aPanamanian who has been working in the organization for more than 12 years, coordinating and supporting the budget management of the WFP agencies in the region.
She stresses that the experience of working in a humanitarian agency transforms the lives of those who put their knowledge at the service of people. “It is precisely in the smallest details of daily lives where the purpose that unites those of us who are part of this organization is enhanced: I remember when they invited me to a food delivery and it touched my heart when the beneficiaries came and took me by the hand, they hugged me, thanking me. This is where you see how your day to day work has an impact on people … I feel that being part of this organization is something incredible, I cannot explain the pride it represents, she adds. Doherty explains that from the central offices of the campus, both special operations in emergencies and multiple programs are coordinated that allow the development of capacities in the communities that help them achieve food and nutrition security.
From the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Panama (UNHRD), we spoke with Jennie Lum, another Panamanian who recalls this is a logistics center that supports the distribution of humanitarian aid to different parts of the world, especially to the region. “The warehouses are strategically located in six countries around the world, one of them is ours. From here, emergency supplies for the communities are acquired, managed and transported,” she says. The warehouse offers free storage, acquisition, transportation, handling and technical experience in the field and was created to respond in 24-48 hours to humanitarian emergencies.
“Every time there is an emergency, we are one of the first units to activate. We have provided humanitarian flights with cargo and passengers. Since we have other partners, besides the WFP, different types of supplies are sent out, not just food,” says Lum. During 2020, they’ve managed to dispatch 55,614 cubic meters of supplies and since August, thanks to its humanitarian flights, 234 people have returned to their country of origin. “Within the network we have relief items, logistics and shelter equipment, ready-to-use food, high-energy cookies, we also handle military supplies of dehydrated food and other supplies for COVID-19 such as protection and medicine. We have not stopped working and we even built new storage spaces. Therefore, receiving the Nobel Prize was a feeling of total collective pride because we have all have worked hard to fulfill our roles. We all feel part of this recognition and that is exciting” says Lum.
A work with high purpose
Being part of the WFP and receiving this recognition, encourages those who are part of the agency to continue working day by day to respond quickly to contingencies that bring food security to those territories at risk. “Knowing that you are immediately helping those most in need … that you can act quickly and that what you are doing is necessary is gratifying,” adds Lum, who also says that they have worked to address the recent hurricanes that affected Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and in Panama. “We have mobile warehouses that we dispatch with supplies and to tend to these emergencies,” she adds.
For Doherty, this award has to do with everyone who is part of the agency: “It is nice to celebrate the recognition, because it is not just ours -it is a recognition to governments, partners, NGOs, allies and donors. It is the joint work of all that makes it possible for us to exist and help.” The agency works side by side with governments, organizations and partners in the private sector, which is why the collective effort stands out: “each work that each of us does is extremely important because it is what links to that objective of not leaving no one behind. For example, from the budget area, we inform the world of what kind of investment is needed to achieve our purpose, and this is key, ” she concludes.
The WFP, as one of the most robust agencies in humanitarian response, is called to take advantage of its presence and operational experience to continue contributing to reduce and prevent hunger in the world. This is why in their Management Plan for 2020-2022, they’ve defined a new route that seeks to address the growing humanitarian crises, which are increasingly complex, prolonged and costly; in order to achieve a preventive and transversal model to the Millennium Sustainable Development Goals. Panama’s role and that of the hundreds of Panamanians who work in the organization is key to fulfilling this purpose. Congratulations to all!