The World Food Program on Friday won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity around the globe.
The announcement was made in Oslo by Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Nobel Committee.
The Nobel Committee said that the coronavirus pandemic has added to the hunger faced by millions of people around the world and called on governments to ensure that WFP and other aid organizations receive the financial support necessary to feed them.
The World Food Programme said Friday that winning the Nobel Peace Prize was a “powerful reminder” that ending global hunger was inextricably linked to ending wars and conflict.
“This is a powerful reminder to the world that peace and #ZeroHunger go hand-in-hand,” the Rome-based WFP said on Twitter.
Spokesman Tomson Phiri, who had been on the podium at the UN in Geneva for a regular press briefing when the announcement landed, described the win as “humbling” and a “proud moment” for the UN organisation. “One of the beauties of WFP activities is that not only do we provide food for today and tomorrow, but we also are equipping people with the knowledge, the means to sustain themselves for the next day and the days after,” he said.
Phiri, who only recently became WFP’s spokesman in Geneva but who has worked for the organisation for nine years most recently in South Sudan, said he had “seen the extent to which people are dedicated across the globe to go the extra mile”.
WFP, which in addition to providing food aid to millions worldwide handles logistics for the overall UN organisation, had especially in the midst of the coronavirus crisis gone “over and above the call of duty”, he said. “At one point we were the biggest airline in the world,” he said, pointing out that, “when most if not all commercial airlines ground to a halt, we were able to move assistance.”
He stressed the clear link between working for peace and ensuring people don’t go hungry. “What we have seen happening in countries such as South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, is that where you have conflict, assistance become irregular,” he said. “It becomes inadequate, assistance also sometimes is delayed and in some cases is even suspended.”
Billions of dollars have been spent providing desperately needed aid to countries that have descended into conflict. But even when aid goes in, Phiri said, you still “need peace”. “You also need stability in those countries, and that is the bedrock. Everything else become less daunting when you have peace.”
No shortage of candidates
There was no shortage of causes or candidates on this year’s list, with 211 individuals and 107 organizations nominated ahead of the Feb. 1 deadline.
However, the Norwegian Nobel Committee maintains absolute secrecy about whom it favors for arguably the world’s most prestigious prize.
The award comes with a 10-milion krona ($1.1 million) cash prize and a gold medal to be handed out at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death. This year’s ceremony will be scaled down due to the pandemic.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize for physiology and medicine for discovering the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus. Tuesday’s prize for physics honored breakthroughs in understanding the mysteries of cosmic black holes, and the chemistry prize on Wednesday went to scientists behind a powerful gene-editing tool. The literature prize was awarded to American poet Louise Gluck on Thursday for her “candid and uncompromising” work.
Still to come next week is the prize for outstanding work in the field of economics.
World Food Programme: Five things to know
The UN’s World Food Programme, which won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, delivers food assistance in emergencies, from wars to civil conflicts, natural disasters and famines.
Here are five facts about the Rome-based organisation:
Created in 1962 on the request of US President Dwight Eisenhower as an experiment to provide food aid through the UN system, WFP had only existed a few months when an earthquake struck northern Iran.
Over 12,000 people died. WFP sent survivors 1,500 metric tons of wheat, 270 tons of sugar and 27 tons of tea.
Others soon needed its help: a typhoon made landfall in Thailand; war refugees needed feeding in Algeria.
In 1963 WFP’s first school meals project was born. In 1965, the agency became a fully-fledged UN programme.
By 2019, it would come to assist 97 million people in 88 countries. WFP says that on any given day it has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move. It distributes over 15 billion rations of food yearly.
WFP focuses on emergency assistance as well as rehabilitation and development aid. Two-thirds of its work is in conflict-affected countries, where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than elsewhere.
It works closely with the other two Rome-based UN agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which helps countries draw up policy and change legislation to support sustainable agriculture, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which finances projects in poor rural areas.
WFP is funded entirely by voluntary donations, most of which comes from governments. It raised $8 billion in 2019, which it says was used to provide 4.2 million metric tons of food and $2.1 billion of cash and vouchers.
It has more than 17,000 staff, with 90 percent based in the countries where the agency provides assistance.
Where in the world?
There are few places where the WFP has not provided assistance. In western Sahel in the 1970s, ravaged by drought, it used “everything in its power – from car to camel, from road to river – to assist those in need”.
It delivered 2 million tons of food during Ethiopia’s 1984 famine. It was present in Sudan, Rwanda, and in Kosovo, then later in Asia after the 2004 tsunami, and Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is suffering the second largest hunger crisis in the world, it assisted 6.9 million people in 2019, as well as helping fight a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
It helps 4.5 million people in war-torn Syria and 300,000 acutely malnourished children in conflict-struck Nigeria.
But WFP’s largest emergency response has been in Yemen, where it tries to feed 13 million people each month.
Hunger today and coronavirus
Over 821 million people in the world are chronically hungry, while another 135 million are facing severe hunger or starvation, and an additional 130 million could join them by the end of 2020 due to coronavirus, the agency warns.
The number of severely food insecure people in the world had already risen nearly 70 percent over the past four years, and the economic fallout from the virus pandemic is expected to spark “a hunger pandemic”, WFP said.
“We urgently need more support from donors, who of course are already hard-pressed by the impact of the pandemic in their own countries”.
WFP’s logistics services used a network of hubs, passenger and cargo airlinks, and medical evacuation services to enabled a steady flow of cargo and workers to the frontlines of the pandemic.
The coronavirus fallout is being felt hardest in Latin America, which has seen an almost three-fold rise in the numbers of people requiring food assistance, as well as West, Central and Southern Africa.
“Before the coronavirus even became an issue, I was saying that 2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” WFP’s executive director David Beasley told the UN security council this year.
“With Covid-19, we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe”.