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NITRA -- Concluding a two-day meeting in this historic Slovakian city, the World Food Programme welcomed its burgeoning partnership with the 10 new member states of the European Union, marked in the past year by expanding cooperation and sharp increases in financial contributions.

In 2005, the EU's new members, led by the Czech Republic, collectively gave US$1.6 million to support WFP's food operations in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Niger, Pakistan and Guatemala. In 2004, donations from the same group of states amounted to slightly less than US$600,000.

As important as the cash contributions have been the widening collaboration between WFP and the new members of the EU. Joint endeavors to raise public awareness about the need to combat widespread global hunger have been fruitful as well.

"We value our relationship with the new EU member states tremendously," said John Powell, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme. "Not only are they increasingly generous contributors to our programs to feed hungry people around the globe, they are also wise and enthusiastic participants in policy debates at WFP's Executive Board."

The European Union has pledged to increase its official development assistance (ODA) to 0.7 percent of Gross National Product by 2015. Since joining the EU in 2004, Cyprus, The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have also pledged to increase their spending on humanitarian and development projects to 0.51 percent of Gross National Product by 2010.

At the conference in Slovakia, Powell renewed WFP's offer to share knowledge and expertise as the members develop their own international assistance policies and programs in line with this large increase in aid spending.

The Czech Republic has been among the most enthusiastic in its support of WFP, providing US$1.2 million in 2005. Underlining Czech policy, the country's foreign minister visited WFP's operations in tsunami-ravaged Aceh last March.

"This year promises to be even better, as we launch joint efforts to involve citizens of the new EU member countries in our efforts to fight hunger,"said Powell. Plans include the translation of 'Food Force', WFP's hit computer game for students, pro-bono advertising in cinemas and advertising on television, newspapers and building sites, plus closer involvement of local celebrities in WFP's work.

WFP celebrity partners have already been enlisted in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia. A website on hunger issues is being established in Warsaw and officials are examining the possibility of another in Prague.

WFP is also exploring methods to utilize the special knowledge, expertise, experience and equipment various new EU members may have acquired. Czech engineers, for example, are well versed in dealing with floods, skills that might well prove useful for WFP endeavors in flood-prone countries like Mozambique, while Poland can deploy the kind of extensive airlift, logistical and supply capacity often required by WFP.

WFP's collaboration with Poland is scheduled to advance another step in February, when a Polish delegation will spend a week with the policy unit at agency headquarters in Rome.