The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme (WFP) is a humbling, moving recognition of the work of WFP staff who lay their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance for close to 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world. People whose lives are often brutally torn apart by instability, insecurity and conflict.
The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday. The UN agency is the largest humanitarian organization in the world that addresses hunger and promotes food security.
“With this award, we wish to turn the world’s eyes to the millions of people who face hunger and food poverty,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the committee, announced in Oslo.
In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are the victims of acute food insecurity and hunger.
The Rome-based WFP has also been instrumental in working to fight increased hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Reiss-Andersen noted, adding that food insecurity is also a driving cause of conflict in the world.
“This is a proud moment,” a WFP spokesman, Tomson Phiri, said in Geneva.
“This year we have gone over and above the call of duty,” he added, referring to the extra work undertaken by the agency in light of the pandemic. “At one point we were the biggest airline in the world when most, if not all, commercial airline ground to a halt.”
“This is a powerful reminder to the world that peace and zero hunger go hand-in-hand,” the WFP wrote on Twitter.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the WFP’s award “highly deserved” for its work saving millions of people from starvation and malnutrition.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “The UK is proud to support its life-saving work in fighting hunger and famine worldwide.”
What is the World Food Programme?
Set up in 1962, the WFP was an experimental way to provide food aid through the UN system. Its first project provided food aid to an earthquake in northern Iran. It now has more than 17,000 staff members, with 90% based on the ground in countries where assistance is provided.
The organization focuses on emergency assistance as well as rehabilitation and development aid. Around two-thirds of its work has to do with conflict-affected regions.
There was already an increase in world hunger even before the coronavirus pandemic. The number of food-insecure people rose by 70% in the last four years. The WFP is predicting a “hunger pandemic” caused by the economic fall-out of COVID-19.
“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.”
Beasley said he was “deeply humbled” by the award.
Nominees kept secret
This marks the 25th time an organization rather than an individual has been honored with the award, which has been presented 101 times since 1901.
The prize for peace differs from the other annual Nobel awards as it is awarded by the Norwegian rather than the Swedish committee, as laid out in prize founder Alfred Nobel’s will.
There were 318 candidates, 211 individuals and 107 organizations. Nominations can be made by a select group, including national lawmakers, heads of state and certain international institutions. Nominees are kept secret for 50 years after the prize-giving.
Along with enormous prestige, the prize comes with a 10-million krona ($1.1 million) cash award and a gold medal to be handed out at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, the anniversary of 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 Glück on Thursday for her “candid and uncompromising” work.
Still to come next week is the prize for outstanding work in the field of economics.