NIAMEY, Niger (AP) – The World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to fight hunger in regions facing conflict and hardship at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has brought millions more to the brink of starvation.
The Rome-based United Nations agency has long specialized in assisting some of the world’s most dangerous and precarious places, from airdrops of food in South Sudan and Syria to the establishment of an emergency delivery service that has maintained aid even as pandemic restrictions have grounded flights.
In announcing the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it wished to “turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer or are threatened by hunger”.
The committee also said it hoped the award would highlight the need to strengthen global solidarity and cooperation in a time of lonely nationalism.
“We are sending a signal to every nation that raises objections to international cooperation,” committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said shortly after the award was announced. “We are sending a signal to this type of nationalism where the responsibility for world affairs is not to be faced.
“Multilateral cooperation is absolutely necessary to tackle global challenges. And multilateralism seems to lack respect these days, ”said Reiss-Andersen.
The award comes as President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from several organs of the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, the cultural agency. He has also repeatedly criticized the United Nations World Health Organization for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and his administration has said the United States will leave it next July.
In light of this American setback, the choice of the World Food Program was particularly noteworthy as the United States remains by far its largest donor, the agency has been run by an American for nearly 40 years, and its current director – who was appointed by the Trump administration – was a rare recent example of US-led internationalism.
David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP, said the prize rightfully goes to his entire team.
“I know I don’t deserve such an award, but all of the men and women around the world from the World Food Program and our partners who put their lives on the line every day to help those in need, it’s inspiring and encouraging. A dazed Beasley told The Associated Press over the phone from Niger.
WFP staff in Niger greeted Beasley with cheers and applause as he stepped out to address a crowd following the announcement. “I didn’t win it, you won it,” he told them.
The Nobel committee said the problem of hunger has become more acute in recent years, not least because the pandemic has added to the difficulties already faced by millions of people around the world.
In total, WFP estimates that 690 million people today suffer from one form or another of hunger in the world.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was delighted that the award went to “the world’s first responder on the front line of food insecurity”. This was the ninth prize awarded to the United Nations or one of its agencies.
“In a world of plenty, it is unacceptable that hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry every night,” Guterres said. “Millions more are now on the brink of famine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “
The Nobel Committee called on governments to ensure that WFP and other humanitarian organizations receive the financial support needed to feed millions of people in countries like Yemen, Congo, Nigeria and South Sudan.
When the award was announced on Friday, Beasley was in Niger, following a visit to neighboring Burkina Faso – two countries in Africa’s Sahel region that she says are “under attack by extremists and climatic extremes. “And are going through” a devastating crisis “time.
A logistics heavyweight, WFP this year established a global emergency delivery service for humanitarian aid. Officials said the unprecedented effort involved nearly 130 countries and was essential to ensure that aid for the pandemic continues to flow in addition to other aid, such as the drugs and vaccines needed to fight against other diseases.
There was no shortage of causes or nominees on this year’s roster, with 211 people and 107 organizations nominated by the February 1 deadline.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee is keeping absolute secrecy about who it favors before the announcement of arguably the world’s most prestigious award, but WFP was on the shortlist of Dan Smith, director of the International Institute for Research on the peace of Stockholm.
“The global problem of hunger is increasing, as is the global problem of violent conflict,” Smith said. “The World Food Program is working at the intersection of these two issues (and) it will face an increasing workload in the years to come. “
The award is accompanied by a gold medal and a cash prize of 10 million crowns ($ 1.1 million) that is overshadowed by the funding WFP needs for its work. So far in 2020, the organization has received nearly $ 6.4 billion in cash or goods, including more than $ 2.7 billion from the United States.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the Physiology and Medicine Prize for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus which ravages the liver. Tuesday’s physics prize honored breakthroughs in understanding the mysteries of cosmic black holes, and Wednesday’s chemistry prize went to scientists behind a powerful gene-editing tool. The literature prize was awarded Thursday to the American poet Louise Glück for her “frank and uncompromising” work.
Still to come next week is the award for outstanding work in economics.
Jordans reported from Berlin. Associated Press journalists Karl Ritter, Nicole Winfield, Patricia Thomas in Rome, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, Cara Anna in Johannesburg and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.