The head of the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has warned that 270 million people face starvation around the globe. WFP Executive Director David Beasley spoke Thursday at a ceremony held virtually as he accepted the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency.
“This Nobel Peace Prize is more than a thank you. It is a call to action,” Beasley said. “Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse, 270 million people are marching toward starvation.” He also said, “Out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100% for their survival.”
Instead of the traditional Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Beasley accepted the prize in Rome, headquarters of the WFP. He said the world had the wealth and resources to tackle global hunger.
“We stand at what may be the most ironic moment in modern history. On the one hand, after a century of massive strides in eliminating extreme poverty, today those 270 million of our neighbors are on the brink of starvation. That's more than the entire population of western Europe. On the other hand, there's $400 trillion of wealth in our world today. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days an additional $2.7 trillion of wealth was created and we only need $5 billion to save 30 million lives from famine. What am I missing here?” Beasley said.
In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to almost 100 million people in 88 countries. The Norwegian Nobel committee said in addition to combating hunger, the WFP had contributed to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected places and was a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict over its 60-year history.
The WFP’s regional director for Eastern Africa, Michael Dunford, said the organization was delighted to win the prize after a tough year.
“This has been a tremendous boost,” Dunford said. “2020 as you know has been one of the most difficult years. COVID has been yet another shock in addition to some of the worst flooding in eastern Africa, in addition to a locust plague of biblical proportions, and unfortunately, and this is the biggest concern, conflict and insecurity in so many of the countries that we’re operating in.”
Dunford says the prize is a tribute to the WFP staff who risk their lives “…working in some of the most difficult locations in the world, in sub-offices deep in the field, be it either in Somalia or in South Sudan. And really, people who have to put their lives on the line to be able to support people who cannot feed themselves.”
The World Food Program has also coordinated medical logistics during the coronavirus pandemic. The WFP executive director warned that a failure by the international community to address the needs of those affected by the outbreak would cause what he called a “hunger pandemic” that would dwarf the death toll caused by the virus.
WFP staff are expected to travel to Oslo at a later stage to deliver the traditional Nobel lecture. The remaining Nobel awards for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics have also been moved online.
The ceremonies are held annually on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his will.