Cindy McCain will become the new executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, putting her at the head of the largest global humanitarian organization.
McCain, 68, who has served since 2021 as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Agencies in Rome, is the widow of former senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a longtime friend of President Biden. She was one of two candidates under consideration to head the World Food Program and will take the position in April, according to Devex, which first reported the news.
“I am deeply honored to be appointed as the next Executive Director of the World Food Program,” McCain said in a statement Thursday. “WFP has been a part of my life for decades, from my time as a humanitarian to today as the U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome.”
McCain said she planned to spend time in Rome and in the field to ensure that the organization “continues to grow to meet the needs of a hungry world.”
“The road ahead is daunting, and hunger is on the rise. However, I’m sure of one thing — when we come together as one world, we can save lives,” she said.
David Beasley, WFP’s outgoing executive director, extended his congratulations to McCain in a Twitter post Wednesday, before the United Nations had made an official announcement. McCain herself later retweeted the post.
“Ambassador, your extraordinary experience & Leadership will be critical as conflicts, climate shocks & hunger soar,” Beasley wrote. “Look forward to working together, our transition will be seamless!”
Congratulations to my friend @cindymccain on your nomination as the new @WFP Executive Director!
Ambassador, your extraordinary experience & leadership will be critical as conflicts, climate shocks & hunger soar. Look forward to working together, our transition will be seamless! pic.twitter.com/f9NQ1teseg
— David Beasley (@WFPChief) March 1, 2023
In a statement Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was confident that McCain would “bring renewed energy, optimism, and success to the World Food Program.”
“For over 60 years, WFP has played a vital role in addressing global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition worldwide, helping feed millions of people in desperate need,” Blinken said. “WFP plays a crucial role in the international community’s efforts to respond to the worsening global food security crisis, and the United States, as its largest contributor, is deeply invested in its continuing success.”
McCain will take the reins of a sprawling agency that is based in Rome but that employs 21,000 staff members in more than 120 countries. The World Food Program, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, seeks to “bring life-saving food to people displaced by conflict and made destitute by disasters.” All of the agency’s funding comes from government, corporate and individual donations, and the organization has estimated that it will require $23.1 billion in funding this year to feed nearly 150 million people.
The World Food Program has also warned that 2023 will be a year of “extreme jeopardy” for those experiencing hunger, noting that an expected 345 million people are projected to be food insecure this year — more than twice as many as in 2020. In addition to climate change and natural disasters, the agency has cited the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine as major factors that have exacerbated famine and food insecurity globally.
In a guest op-ed for The Washington Post last year, WFP’s outgoing executive director wrote that the organization had formerly sourced more than half its wheat from Ukraine. Combined with the pandemic’s “economic aftershocks,” spiking crude oil prices, shipping routes disrupted by the war in Ukraine and a leveling-off of donations, Beasley warned that the agency was having to make “brutal choices.”
“We have had to slash rations to refugees and other populations across East Africa and the Middle East. Halved rations mean hungry children eating the equivalent of just one bowl of cereal each day,” Beasley wrote. “There were early glimmers that economies were beginning to recover from the pandemic. But Russia’s invasion has reminded us that the root cause of hunger around the world is human folly and reckless disregard for human life.”