WFP chief uses Nobel speech as call for action to avert ‘hunger pandemic’

10 December 2020

With 270 million people – more than the entire population of Western Europe – “marching toward starvation”, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) called for greater action to avert a “hunger pandemic”, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the UN agency on Thursday. 

WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned “famine is at humanity’s doorstop”, threatening to destroy lives and undo so much we hold dear. 

“Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse —270 million people are marching toward starvation,” he said, speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Rome. 

“Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID.  And if that’s not bad enough, out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100 per cent for their survival.” 

Lifesaving work in dangerous locations 

WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in October for its work providing lifesaving food assistance to millions worldwide, often in dangerous locations. Last year, it supported nearly 100 million people. 

Mr. Beasley underlined that food is “the pathway to peace.” For the agency, it is also sacred, and their work is “an act of love”, he told the online ceremony, citing both the 1964 Nobel laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and The Bible.  

“We stand at what may be the most ironic moment in modern history. On the one hand — after a century of massive strides in eliminating extreme poverty, today those 270 million of our neighbours are on the brink of starvation.  That’s more than the entire population of Western Europe”, he said. 

“On the other hand, there is $400 trillion of wealth in our world today.  Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days, an additional $2.7 trillion of wealth was created. And we only need $5 billion  to save 30 million lives from famine.” 

Life-or-death choices 

Mr. Beasley said many of his friends, as well as world leaders, often remark that he has the greatest job in the world, saving the lives of millions.  However, he begged to differ: 

“Well, here is what I tell them:  ‘I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved, I go to bed weeping over the children we could not save. And, when we don’t have enough money, nor the access we need, we have to decide which children eat and which children do not eat, which children live, which children die.  How would you like that job?’," he said, adding "Please don’t ask us to choose who lives and who dies.”

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN releases $100 million to guard against famine

The United Nations released $100 million of emergency funding on Tuesday to stave off the risk of famine in seven countries most at risk from a hunger epidemic fueled by conflict, economic decline, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN World Food Programme wins 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, as hunger mounts

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which provides lifesaving food assistance to millions across the world – often in extremely dangerous and hard-to-access conditions – has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.