United Nations World Food Programme Wins 101st Nobel Peace Prize

The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which strives to counter hunger and food insecurity, particularly in countries suffering under violence, conflict or war. Last year, the WFP supported an estimated 97 million people in 88 different countries. In the announcement of this year’s winner, the Nobel Committee stated that the WFP was awarded the prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” Amongst the other nominees that were up for the Nobel Peace Prize this year were the World Health Organization for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Greta Thunberg for her work as a climate activist.

The WFP was established almost 60 years ago in 1961, in response to President Eisenhower’s push for the introduction of a UN scheme with a focus on providing food to those in need. The New York Times reported that the WFP is the largest humanitarian organization in the world targeting hunger and its causes. It has important operations in countries including Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan, and has in the past played a role in crises including the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 1980s conflict in Yugoslavia. Underlying the WFP’s mission and playing a key role in shaping their operations and goals is the understanding of how conflict is a driver for a great deal of food insecurity across the globe. In this way, the WFP not only focuses on short-term solutions to the immediate problems faced by vulnerable populations but is also looking, importantly, to identify and solve long-term factors in creating hunger. The WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley stated, “every one of the 690 million hungry people in the world today has the right to live peacefully and without hunger.”

The work done by the WFP has been essential and worthy of such recognition for years; however, additional challenges that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their response to date to these challenges, have made the work they do even more invaluable. The WFP previously warned that COVID-19 could result in what they called a “hunger pandemic” in countries where this disease is an addition to an already long list of threats and challenges that have destroyed infrastructures and left populations vulnerable. WFP estimates that the pandemic could more than double the number of individuals at risk of experiencing “life-threatening levels of food insecurity,” with up to 265 million people potentially falling into this category. The announcement of this Nobel Peace Prize, therefore, comes at a crucial time for the organization and will serve to spread awareness of the important work they do in a globally difficult time. In a statement to the CNN, the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Henrik Urdal, said, “It’s a prize that underscores the link between armed conflict and hunger, and it’s a prize which speaks to one of the great challenges of our time, which is the increasing number of refugees worldwide.”

Clara Baltay