World Food Program wins Nobel Peace Prize as hunger surges
WFP staffers in Niger greeted Beasley with cheers and applause as he emerged to address a crowd after the announcement. “I didn’t win it, you won it,” he told them.
The award comes as Trump has pulled the United States out of several U.N. bodies, including the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, the cultural agency. He has also repeatedly criticized the U.N.’s World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and his administration has said the United States will leave it in July.
In light of that pullback, the choice of the World Food Program was particularly notable because the U.S. remains by far its biggest donor, the agency has been run by an American for nearly 40 years, and Beasley has been a rare recent example of U.S.-led internationalism.
The Nobel Committee said the problem of hunger has again become more acute in recent years, not least because the pandemic has added to the hardship already faced by millions.
WFP estimates that 690 million people worldwide suffer some form of hunger today.
“Where there is conflict, there is hunger. And where there is hunger, there is often conflict,” Beasley said in a statement on the agency’s website. “Today is a reminder that food security, peace and stability go together.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was delighted the award went to “the world’s first responder on the front lines of food insecurity.” It was the ninth award for the U.N. or one of its agencies.
“In a world of plenty, it is unconscionable that hundreds of millions go to bed each night hungry,” Guterres said. “Millions more are now on the precipice of famine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Nobel Committee called on governments to ensure that WFP and other aid organizations receive the financial support needed to feed millions in countries such as Yemen, Congo, Nigeria and South Sudan.
When the award was announced, Beasley was in Niger, following a visit to neighbouring Burkina Faso — two countries in the Sahel region of Africa that he said is “under attack by extremists and climate extremes” and going through “a devastating” time.
A logistics juggernaut, WFP this year created a global emergency delivery service for humanitarian aid. Officials said the unprecedented effort involved nearly 130 countries and was key in ensuring that aid for the pandemic kept flowing in addition to other assistance, like the drugs and vaccines needed to combat other diseases.
As recently as this week, a WFP humanitarian convoy was attacked in South Sudan, drawing condemnation from the U.S. State Department.
There was no shortage of causes or candidates on this year’s Nobel list, with 211 individuals and 107 organizations nominated.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee maintains absolute secrecy about whom it favours before the announcement, but WFP had been on the short list of Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“The global problem of hunger is increasing and so is the global problem of violent conflict,” Smith said. “The World Food Program works at the intersection of those two problems (and it’s going to face an increasing workload in the coming years.”
Some, however, noted that the World Food Program’s top donors are also major food exporters and often involved in the sale of arms to conflict zones where the agency works, from Afghanistan to Yemen.
“This Nobel Prize is important to celebrate multilateral co-operation, to show solidarity between nations,” said Frederic Mousseau, policy director at The Oakland Institute, a progressive think-tank based in California. “But we should not ignore the hypocrisy of the richest nations engaged in and profiteering from the wars where they finance WFP interventions.”
The award comes with a gold medal and a 10-milion krona ($1.1 million cash prize that is dwarfed by the funding that WFP requires for its work. So far in 2020, the organization has received almost $6.4 billion in cash or goods, with over $2.7 billion coming from the U.S.
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 honoured 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 Gluck on Thursday for her “candid and uncompromising” work.
The Nobel Memorial Prize for economics, which was only established in 1968, will be awarded Monday.
Jordans reported from Berlin. Associated Press journalists Karl Ritter, Nicole Winfield, Patricia Thomas in Rome, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, Cara Anna in Johannesburg, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report