(Reuters) – The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to combat hunger around the world and improve conditions for peace in areas affected by conflict.
The Rome-based organisation says it helps some 97 million people in about 88 countries each year, and that one in nine people worldwide still do not have enough to eat.
“The need for international solidarity and multilateral cooperation is more conspicuous than ever,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told a news conference.
She called the WFP a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, and said the COVID-19 pandemic, which the WFP says could double hunger worldwide, had made it even more relevant.
“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” the Nobel committee said in its citation.
“There is an estimate within the World Food Programme that … there will be 265 million starving people within a year, so of course this is also a call to the international community not to underfund the World Food Programme.”
WFP runs a logistics service that has dispatched medical cargoes to over 120 countries throughout the pandemic to help governments and health partners fighting COVID-19.
It also has provided passenger services to ferry humanitarian and health workers where commercial flights were unavailable.
“At a time when we are living through a global pandemic, the need for food, humanitarian help has intensified,” Reiss-Andersen told Reuters.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley, travelling in Niger, posted a video statement on social media.
“It’s because of the WFP family,” he said. “They are 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 …
“This is the first time I’ve been speechless … This is unbelievable,” he said. “And wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!”
In a written statement, he added: “Today is a reminder that food security, peace and stability go together. Without peace, we cannot achieve our global goal of zero hunger; and while there is hunger, we will never have a peaceful world.”
In Geneva, WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters:
“When everything went into shutdown mode, the World Food Programme was there. When everyone was leaving and we were going into lockdowns, the World Food Programme had to provide the logistical support that the world deserved, that the world needed.”
At one point at the height of the pandemic, as airlines were cutting back flights, the WFP was running the largest operational airline in the world, he said.
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the Norwegian Nobel Committee had wanted to send a message of both hope and “support for international cooperation”.
“Hunger, like climate change, the pandemic and other issues, is a world problem that can only be properly addressed through cooperation,” he told Reuters.
“Unfortunately, in too many quarters, especially among the great powers, there is a declining appetite for cooperation.
He noted that, after declining for several decades, world hunger had been on the rise again since 2016.
The United Nations, which turns 75 this month, has itself won the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, as have several of its agencies, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNICEF children’s fund and its peacekeeping forces.