The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Program on Friday for its front-line efforts to alleviate hunger amid the pandemic and to send a message that greater international cooperation is needed.
The award to the United Nations' Rome-based agency served as a counterpoint to nationalist efforts in fighting the coronavirus and accompanying skepticism of international coordination.
"With this year’s award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger," the committee said in a statement.
"The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world," it said. "The work of the World Food Program to the benefit of humankind is an endeavor that all the nations of the world should be able to endorse and support."
Shortly after learning of the award, WFP's executive director, David Beasley, said the organization's 17,000 employees all deserve the congratulations for helping to alleviate suffering. WFP estimates 690 million people suffer from hunger around the world.
"I believe what the committee has done today is give recognition to the fact that we can’t forget about the poor, the needy, the vulnerable that are suffering around the world," he told Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, in an interview.
'On the precipice of famine'
Beasley started warning leaders before the pandemic hit in March that the world's worst humanitarian crises since World War II could erupt in 2020 due to wars in Syria and Yemen and other conflicts and disasters in places like Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan.
But since his own recovery in April from COVID-19, Beasley traveled and pitched tirelessly for aid to hard-hit, poorer nations. Last month, he told the U.N. Security Council that wars and conflicts, climate change and the pandemic were pushing 270 million more people towards starvation — and 30 million who now depend on WFP for food will die without it.
Beasley, an American and Republican former governor of South Carolina from 1995 to 1999, is pushing for the world's more than 2,000 billionaires, collectively worth US$8 trillion, to contribute billions more to help everyone who does not have enough food.
In 2017, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, also a Republic former governor of South Carolina, nominated Beasley to be WFP's executive director. Beasley was appointed a month later.
"Every one of the 690 million hungry people in the world today has the right to live peacefully and without hunger," Beasley said in a statement.
"Today, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has turned the global spotlight on them and on the devastating consequences of conflict. Climate shocks and economic pressures have further compounded their plight. And now, a global pandemic with its brutal impact on economies and communities, is pushing millions more to the brink of starvation," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres applauded the Nobel committee's decision to recognize WFP as "the world’s first responder" to people lacking adequate sustenance.
"In a world of plenty, it is unconscionable that hundreds of millions go to bed each night hungry. Millions more are now on the precipice of famine due to the COVID‑19 pandemic," Guterres said in a statement.
"There is also a hunger in our world for international cooperation. The World Food Program feeds that need, too," he added. "Such solidarity is precisely needed now to address not only the pandemic, but other global tests of our time. We know that existential threats such as climate change will make the hunger crisis even worse."