- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

Feeding the hungry
In the decade that Catherine Bertini has been running the World Food Program, her agency has had to respond to a dizzying assortment of needs: malnutrition in Afghanistan, famine in the Horn of Africa, and general advice and assistance in scores of countries.
The emergencies have come from all over the globe Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, drought in Ethiopia, civil war in Angola and a general economic and agricultural implosion in North Korea. With all this, the Rome-based agency has become something of a growth industry: Today, it feeds 83 million people in 80 countries, up from 53 million people a decade ago.
"This has been a very hard decade in terms of natural disasters, not to mention civil war and conflicts," said Mrs. Bertini, who will be stepping down next month after two terms as executive director.
The first American to run the WFP, Mrs. Bertini is handing off to James T. Morris, an American businessman with a background in management and administration.
Washington, which has increasingly regarded U.N. programs with a calculating eye, has spent lavishly on the WFP. The United States has raised its annual contribution from roughly one-quarter of the agency's budget in 1992 to 67 percent in 2001.
About half the annual $1.2 billion U.S. contribution is cash, and the rest is food, often surplus grain grown by American farmers. While some countries have criticized this arrangement as a sort of welfare for the agricultural industry, Mrs. Bertini says the assistance is beyond reproach.
"It all would have gone to waste anyway, right?" she asked last week, in the quiet conference room of the WFP's New York liaison office. "They could have done any number of things with it, but they trust us."
Mrs. Bertini said the reason for that trust is largely the focus of the mission concentrating on getting food assistance distributed to the people who need it, rather than just gathering contributions and moving it to ports and runways.
"Before," she said, "it was about how many tons can we get in to a place. Now, it's about getting that aid to the people who need it. Especially women. These are ones who are most responsible for seeing that food gets to the children, and so on." Mrs. Bertini is especially proud of a program that feeds students in 23 countries, reaching children the organization would have otherwise missed, and encouraging regular attendance.
The North Korean famine put the WFP on the map. In 1995, the agency negotiated with Pyongyang for months to put in place a program to feed 50,000 farmers an effort to keep local food production running in the face of an increasingly severe famine. The self-isolated regime has reluctantly allowed foreign-aid workers to stay in the country, overseeing the distribution of mostly American rice and other grains to one-third of the population.
Most U.N. program officials say voluntary contributions have been dwindling, or are being increasingly earmarked for specific projects, and Mrs. Bertini agrees. But she says the WFP can usually rely on governments to support its appeals.
"We have an absolute moral argument," she said. "People generally agree that no one should go hungry if there is enough food in the world."
Mrs. Bertini, a former Agriculture Department official, has not yet decided on her next job or at least will not talk about it. For the time being, she and her husband plan to relax at their home in Cortland, in upstate New York.
Mrs. Bertini, who plays the clarinet, is also excited to be joining her brother, a jazz musician, on tour. "I'll be on the tour bus," she said, plainly delighted at the prospect. "But I won't be playing, I'll just be along."

Tales, tunes, treaties
Thirty member states have ratified two U.N. treaties to protect authors and musicians in the digital age, the organization said last week. The treaties, negotiated six years ago under the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), have been ratified by the United States, and the 15-member European Union is expected to join soon. They update a convention written in Berne, Switzerland, in 1886 - the Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
The treaty for authors will enter into force March 6, and the one for musicians on May 20.
Both accords will "help to boost the future development of the Internet, electronic commerce and the culture and information industries, because content producers and creators will be more confident that their interests are better guarded," said WIPO Director-General Kamal Idris.

*Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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