The United Nations’ World Food Programme on Friday was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity in regions of conflict and hardship around the globe.
The Rome-based organisation provided assistance to almost 100 million people in 88 countries around the world last year.
“With this year’s award, the (committee) wishes to turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, announcing the award in Oslo.
“The World Food Programme plays a key role in multilateral cooperation on making food security an instrument of peace.”
The organisation, known as WFP, has long been headed by an American, and in 2017 US President Donald Trump nominated the former Republican governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, for the post.
A giddy Beasley praised the WFP “family” and said they deserved the award.
“I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been without words,” Beasley told The Associated Press by phone from Niger. “I was just so shocked and surprised.”
Beasley said he found out about the award from a WFP media officer who had just been informed by the AP.
“Talk about the most exciting point in time in your life, it’s the Nobel Peace Prize. And it’s because of the WFP family,” he said. “They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes. … They deserve this award. And wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.”
WFP staffers in Niger greeted Beasley with cheers and applause as he emerged from a building to address a crowd after the announcement:
“Two things,” he told them. “I can’t believe I’m in Niger when we got the award, and No.2, I didn’t win it, you won it.”
The Nobel Committee said that the problem of hunger has again become more acute in recent years, not least because of the coronavirus pandemic that has added to the hardship already faced by millions of people around the world.
“In 2019, 135 million people suffered from acute hunger, the highest number in many years,” it said. “Most of the increase was caused by war and armed conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world.”
The Nobel Committee called on governments to ensure that WFP and other aid organisations receive the financial support necessary to feed millions in countries such as Yemen, Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burkina Faso.
WFP has consistently blamed climate change for fuelling hunger and wreaking havoc on crops. Beasley warned the UN Security Council in April that the world was “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months if immediate action wasn’t taken.
There was no shortage of causes or candidates on this year’s list, with 211 individuals and 107 organisations nominated ahead of the February 1 deadline. The Norwegian Nobel Committee maintains absolute secrecy about whom it favours before the announcement of arguably the world’s most prestigious prize.
The award comes with a 10-milion krona ($1.1 million) cash prize and a gold medal.
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 Glück on Thursday for her “candid and uncompromising” work.
Still to come next week is the prize for outstanding work in the field of economics.