The World Food Programme (WFP) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, which recognizes the organization’s effort to combat hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts around the world.
WFP, a United Nations agency, is the leading humanitarian organization delivering food assistance in emergencies. Created in 1961, it works to provide assistance to the nearly 690 million hungry people around the world.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, announced the winner of the award in Oslo.
“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts,” Reiss-Andersen said in the press announcement. “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.”
Reiss-Andersen emphasized the links between hunger, conflict, and the pandemic.
In countries like Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso, where there were already violent conflicts, the COVID-19 outbreak has compounded existing problems and forced people to the brink of starvation.
The cycle between hunger and conflict is cyclical: war and conflict cause food insecurity and hunger, and hunger and food insecurity cause conflicts and trigger the use of violence.
Take-home ration distribution at Kakamar Primary School, July 2020. The Government of Uganda and the WFP are distributing food rations to children in the Karamoja region in Uganda to support home-learning while schools remain closed due to the COVID-19.
"As the organization itself has stated: Until the day we have a vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos," Reiss-Andersen said.
The pandemic is also worsening hunger around the world beyond conflict zones. Oxfam reported that by the end of the year, 12,000 people could die from hunger linked to COVID-19 each day — potentially more from the disease itself.
The pandemic forced schools to close, causing a massive disruption to the more than 320 million children who receive daily meals at schools. For many hungry students, meals provided at school were their only nutritious meal of the day.
Now, WFP is adapting to the pandemic and accommodating social distancing measures to ensure that students are still able to have access to food. The organization is also looking into cash or vouchers to support families who cannot afford to feed their children.
Several world leaders expressed their praise for WFP’s work. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, tweeted, “Huge admiration and respect for the life-saving work you do for people in need everywhere.”
On behalf of @WHO, congratulations @WFP and my colleague @WFPChief David Beasley on winning the 2020 @NobelPrize for Peace! Huge admiration and respect for the life-saving work you do for people in need everywhere.https://t.co/0ZoPVCqqPn— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) October 9, 2020
David Beasley, executive director of WFP, posted a video of himself on Twitter, reacting to the news. “This is unbelievable! Talk about the most exciting point in time in your life,” he said.
We are deeply humbled to receive the #NobelPeacePrize. This is an incredible recognition of the dedication of the @WFP family, working to end hunger everyday in 80+ countries.— David Beasley (@WFPChief) October 9, 2020
Thank you @NobelPrize for this incredible honor! pic.twitter.com/bHcS0usWQa
“It’s because of the WFP family,” Beasley continued. “They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes, it doesn’t matter — they are out there and they deserve this award.”
World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley (left) visits one of the small farmer associations to better understand the Impact of COVID-19 on the smallholder farmers and their families in the Imbabura Province, Ecuador, July 2020.