The Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 has been awarded to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – the leading global humanitarian organisation working to end hunger, address food security and improve nutrition.
The prestigious prize was awarded to the 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.”
It is a welcome result for Christians who know the instruction to feed the hungry is a central teaching of the Bible – albeit one that, regretfully, is often overlooked for attention by believers.
Last year, WFP assisted 97 million victims of acute food insecurity and hunger – the largest number since 2012 – in 88 countries.
While it’s estimated one in nine people worldwide do not have enough food to eat, two-thirds of the WFP’s work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict.
“As the organisation itself has stated, until the day we have a vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.” – Berit Reiss-Andersen, Nobel Committee chairwoman
At a media conference announcing the WFP’s win, Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said, “the World Food Programme, would have been a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize without the pandemic, but the pandemic and the challenges raised by the pandemic definitely strengthens the reasons for the prize.
“The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world. 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,” she said.
“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts. As the organisation itself has stated, until the day we have a vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”
Reiss-Andersen explained that food insecurity and hunger are a direct threat to peace, and often lead to war and armed conflict.
“The link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious cycle. War and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence,” she said.
“Hunger is one of the oldest conflict weapons in the world.” – Berit Reiss-Andersen
When asked how hunger is used as a weapon of war, Reiss-Andersen described it as “one of the oldest conflict weapons in the world”.
“You can starve out a population to enter a territory. [If] parties in a conflict get control over food, you get also a military control and you get the better control of civilians. You can also use a food insecurity as a method to chase populations away from their territory by burning down farms, destroying infrastructure, etc. So I think throughout all times, and unfortunately also in present day, this is a very active weapon in warfare. ”
The chairwoman said the committee hoped the prize would highlight the desperate need of not only providing food to countries that lacked it, but creating sustainable food-safe communities.
“The world is in danger of experiencing a hunger crisis of inconceivable proportions if the World Food Programme and other food assistance organisations do not receive the financial support they have requested,” she said.
At a time when many countries around the world – even wealthy, western nations – are facing their own national economic crises and challenges, awarding the prize to a branch of the United Nations (UN) is a strong political statement by the Nobel Committee – one the chairwoman addressed head on.
She noted the rising tendency in public conversation to discredit international efforts, saying there was a “a nationalistic flavour” that was characterised by “everybody, every nation supporting their own interests” in contemporary discourse. But, she pointed out, the consequence of universal human rights upon which the United Nations was established, also involves universal responsibility for the condition of humankind.
And, for countries that were considering pulling back their support of WFP for reasons related to their national economies, Reiss-Andersen had some stern warnings.
“We hope that this prize raises an awareness to all the starving populations in the world, particularly those who live safely in western communities. We do not see hunger. We have not experienced hunger … all the world communities have to contribute to combat hunger, and that’s also a question of hard cash. All nations who are able, we’ll have to contribute to solve this.”
When pressed by reporter as to possible reasons for nation states’ decline in funding UN initiatives, she remained unequivocal.
“I think if you ask anybody within the UN system, they will claim that it is harder these days to get the necessary financial support for the different activities of the different agencies. So it is of course, an element of not having such strong state support, as, has been the fact, earlier,” she said.
“If you, in your question, also imply ‘is the performance of international organisations so poor that they don’t have the sufficient standing to gain support?’, I definitely cannot see that element when it comes to the World Food Programme.
“The World Food Programme has had the ability to enter territories that are extremely difficult to enter like Syria, like North Korea … and not to mention Yemen that is a very challenging situation presently. So I would say the organisation performs on a very high level, and that is also one of the reasons they have been awarded with this prestigious prize. But it is evidently a fact that the organisation is dependent on funding to carry out its task.”
“Hunger robs children of their potential, gnaws away at hope, plunges millions into an uncertain future and can also fuel conflict in vulnerable communities.” – Graham Strong, acting CEO, World Vision Australia
World Vision Australia‘s acting CEO Graham Strong said as a partner of the WFP for 30 years – and its largest implementing partner for the past 16 years – World Vision was delighted by such a highly respected recognition of the WFP’s work.
“We partner with the WFP in many of the world’s toughest places, where the meal children receive through our school feeding programme is often their only source of nutrition,” Strong said.
“Hunger robs children of their potential, gnaws away at hope, plunges millions into an uncertain future and can also fuel conflict in vulnerable communities. But working alongside the WFP, I’ve seen children’s lives transformed with more energetic, happier students, better results and a chance to succeed in life.”
Strong said he hoped the award would shine a light on the growing task of combatting hunger as the COVID crisis cuts family incomes and complicates the logistics of food supply.
“Earlier this year, the WFP warned the number of people facing acute food insecurity was likely to double from 135 million to 265 million in 2020, due mostly to COVID-19, which has compounded the impact of conflicts, poverty and climate-related shocks.
“If governments of advanced economies and the world’s mega-wealthy – many of whom have prospered under COVID – do not act quickly and substantially, it will take organisations like ours decades, not years, to help these people recover.”
Between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019 alone, the WFP-World Vision partnership reached 10.7 million of the world’s most vulnerable, across 29 countries. More than 50 per cent of beneficiaries were children. Of the WFP’s support, 70 per cent was used to improve the lives of children and their families in the top 10 fragile contexts where World Vision works.