Cindy McCain, widow of late Republican senator John McCain and a prominent philanthropist, has been appointed as the new head of the World Food Programme.
Ms McCain, who currently serves as permanent representative to the UN agencies in Rome, will succeed David Beasley as head of the world's largest hunger relief agency when his tenure ends in April.
Mr Beasley congratulated Ms McCain, saying her experience and leadership would be “critical” as conflicts, climate disasters and hunger soar.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said Ms McCain brings several years of experience including “being a champion for human rights and has a long history of giving a voice to the voiceless through her humanitarian and philanthropic work”.
Ms McCain has long been involved in efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition and has served as an adviser to the UN on issues related to humanitarian aid.
An American has held the top UN food position since the early 1990s and the WFP depends heavily on US financial support. Washington contributed more than $7.2 billion to the WFP in 2022, almost half of all contributions.
Ms McCain’s political skills and her bipartisan relationships with members of Congress will be critical to keeping the organisation afloat, Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, told The National.
“Heading WFP is all about public communications and fundraising. It's not McCain's job to work out how many bags of food you need to load on to a plane,” he said.
“The challenge is keeping international attention on a long list of food crises around the world and persuading donors to keep funding the organisation's work at a time when aid budgets are under pressure.”
As the WFP's new head, Ms McCain will face a daunting task of fighting world hunger and malnutrition.
Acute food insecurity has reached unprecedented highs, affecting a record 349 million people in 2022, up from 135 million in 2019.
Disruptions to grain supplies and rising food and fertiliser prices caused by the war in Ukraine have pushed more people to the brink in regions all over the world already reeling from skyrocketing costs resulting from climate change, conflict and the pandemic.
Artur Andrzej Pollok, Poland's ambassador to the UN and head of the WFP's executive board, said Ms McCain takes over “at a moment when the world confronts the most serious food security crisis in modern history and this leadership role has never been more important”.
WFP was paying 30 per cent more for food in early 2022 compared to 2019 and the agency had to cut rations for vulnerable people. It now finds its costs up by $73 million per month — a 44 per cent rise from 2019.
This year, the UN food agency is hoping to raise $23 billion to reach 150 million people.
Despite raising $14 billion in 2022, the amount still fell short by $7 billion of what was needed to appropriately meet global needs.