The need for the World Food Programme, the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, to exist is starker than ever. From conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to flooding in South Sudan, and the civil war in Yemen, man-made and natural disasters are leaving tens of millions of people unsure if they will have enough food for themselves and their families to survive on.
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has put an extra strain on the most vulnerable populations in the world, war and armed conflict remain the greatest enemies faced by the World Food Programme: people living in conflict-affected countries are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in peace.
In September, the head of WFP, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council that the agency is preparing to reach some 138 million people this year, in order to prevent what he called a “wave of hunger and famine” from sweeping across the globe. This marks the biggest scale-up of emergency food operations in its history, stretching back to the early 1960s.
‘As long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable’
The World Food Programme was set up in 1961, at the behest of US President Dwight Eisenhower, initially as a three-year experiment, to assess the effectiveness of emergency food aid delivery through the UN system.
Within its first few years, the young agency was tasked with dealing with the human consequences of a range of natural and man-made disasters: a 1962 earthquake in northern Iraq, which killed more than 12,000 people; typhoon Harriet, which made landfall in Thailand, killing more than 900; and a newly independent Algeria, struggling to repatriate and feed its war refugees.
From the beginning, rehabilitation went hand in hand with emergency aid. In 1963, the WFP’s launched its first development programme, to support the Nubian population in Wadi Haifa, Sudan, and a school meals project in Togo.
When three years had passed, it was clear that the experiment had proved its worth, and WFP became a fully-fledged UN agency, to last for “as long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable”. For almost 60 years, the Member States of the United Nations have found that to be an essential truth.
‘This fight is far from over’
Today, the WFP is needed more than ever. Armed conflicts continue to ravage the globe, and drive millions into poverty. This year, some 20 million people in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northern Nigeria are living on the brink of famine. Conflict is the main driver, alongside drought.
In his September address to the Security Council, Executive Director David Beasley warned that the fight against the global hunger crisis is far from over, adding “I’m here to sound that alarm...the threat of famine is looming yet again”.
Responding to the Peace Prize win in a video message recorded on Friday, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, praised the WFP as the world’s “first responder on the frontlines of food insecurity”.
The agency, reminded the UN chief, survives solely on voluntary contributions, from UN Member States and the public at large. “Such solidarity”, he added, “is precisely needed now to address not only the pandemic, but other global tests of our time. We know that existential threats such as climate change will make the hunger crisis even worse. We know that achieving zero hunger is an imperative for peace”.
The UN, a multiple Nobel Peace Prize winner
Below is the full list of United Nations winners:
- 1954: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR
- 1965: The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- 1969: International Labour Organisation (ILO)
- 1981: UNHCR again
- 1988: United Nations Peacekeeping Forces
- 2001: Then Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Ghana) and the United Nations
- 2005: International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, and Mohamed ElBaradei (Egypt)
- 2007: Al Gore (US) and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC)
- 2020: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)
Here is a selection of videos featuring UN Nobel Peace Prize recipients.