World Food Programme Wins 2020 Nobel Peace Prize – In Year When Food Supplies Are Disrupted By Floods, Locusts & COVID-19
Refugees in Uganda receive their monthly emergency ration from the World Food Program.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in fighting hunger in a year when food supplies for millions of people have been disrupted by COVID-19, destroyed by flooding and devoured by unprecedented locust swarms spreading across Africa and beyond.

In Friday’s announcement, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee, said it had awarded the prize to WFP “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, Nobel committee chair, in announcing the award. She called upon the international community to boost funding for WFP at a critical moment when the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc with the global economy.

WFP replied, saying, “WFP is deeply humbled… “This is in recognition of the work of WFP staff who put their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance to more than 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world.”

World has Faced Special Challenges in Food Security This Year

In its award announcement the Nobel Prize Committee noted that: “The World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security. In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger.

“The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world,” Reiss-Anderson said. “In recent years, the situation has taken a negative turn. In 2019, 135 million people suffered from acute hunger, the highest number in many years. Most of the increase was caused by war and armed conflict.

“In countries such as Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burkina Faso, the combination of violent conflict and the pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation. In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts.

The award commitee stressed that the fight against world hunger has special meaning in the pandemic year.

“According to the most recent reports, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020, due to the economic disruptions that have occurred worldwide, often hitting hardest at the poorest countries and economies.”

In the WHO African region alone, an additional 22 million people were undernourished as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19 lockdowns – on top of the 200 million Africans that are already undernourished, said World Food Programme officials predicted earlier this year. 

The UN State of World Food Security and Nutrition published in July, estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. The hungry are most numerous in Asia, but expanding fastest in Africa.

The majority of Africa’s population lives hand-to-mouth, and lack of income opportunities under the lockdowns have left many people unable to afford food. The cost of basic foodstuffs increased, and deliveries of essential food supplies were also delayed due to trade and travel restrictions imposed earlier in the year.

Over the course of 2020, East Africa and the Horn of Africa have also faced a series of unprecedented, overlapping natural disasters, including a record season of flooding and locusts, according to a recent report by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

The widespread flooding in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda during the spring displaced around 500,000 people. The flooding also set back key interventions against the worst locust crisis the area has faced in decades.

Announcement ends Speculation of WHO and Greta Thunberg as contenders

The announcement ended speculation about a range of other contenders for the prize, from the World Health Organization to climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was also passed over in 2019.

“Are there really people who seriously believe that I will win. It’s not serious. Of course not, I won’t win. Why would I win?”  the climate activist, Thunberg told reporters while appearing at a Fridays for Futures climate protest in Stockholm Sweden.

Speaking at a press conference later Friday, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said “I would like to congratulate the World Food programme upon being awarded the Nobel Peace prize today. Every day WFP does tremedous work in countries. We are delighted for WFP and for the whole UN family.”

Added the WHO head of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, who worked with the agency in West Africa, “WFP rocks. Well done WFP.”

World Food Programme lauded for its Work Addressing Upsurge of Needs

Created in 1961, the World Food Programme today provides food for over 90 million people a year. It has stepped up its operations significantly in recent months as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has expanded.

WFP has faced a drop in financial contributions in recent years as countries reduce funding for global organisations – and it was clear that the Nobel Committee’s award aimed to send a message to donors.

“This is also a call to the international community not to underfund the World Food Programme,” Reiss-Andersen said. “This is an obligation, in our mind, of all states of the world to ensure that people are not starving.”

-Pip Cook/Geneva Solutions contributed to this story


Image Credits: Flickr – USAID, Flickr – USAID.

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