Nobel Peace Prize 2020: Why has the World Food Programme won this year's award?

Nobel Committee says award will draw attention to millions of people facing hunger

Coronavirus: United Nations World Food Programme plans to support 4.1 million Zimbabweans

The United NationsWorld Food Programme (WFP) has been announced as the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

The organisation, which works to combat hunger and food insecurity globally, provided assistance to almost 100 million people in 88 countries around the world in 2019.

The Nobel Committee said this year’s award would draw attention to the hunger faced by millions of people around the world, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

It also called on governments to ensure that the WFP and other aid organisations receive enough financial support to feed people suffering from hunger.

David Beasley, head of WFP, told The Associated Press after the announcement: “I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been without words. I was just so shocked and surprised.”

What is the World Food Programme?

Aiming to feed tens of millions of people around the world who have been driven into hunger due to conflicts, natural disasters or policy failures, WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations. It has offices in 54 countries and provides aid to an average of 91.4 million people in at least 83 countries each year.

The organisation also works with governments to offer technical assistance and capacity development to strengthen individual government capacities in areas including disaster risk management and social protection systems.

Here are a few of WFP’s most significant emergency responses during the pandemic and in conflict-ridden countries.

Coronavirus

In June, WFP announced that it was undertaking “the biggest humanitarian response in its history” to assist millions more people facing hunger as the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on the world.

The organisation estimated that the number of people going hungry in countries where it operates could increase to 270 million before the end of 2020, marking an 82 per cent increase from before the pandemic began.

In the first six months of the year, WFP said it reached 85 million people, launching new food and cash programmes to support hungry people in urban areas and supporting over 50 governments to scale up social protection programmes.

Yemen

According to WFP, its emergency response in Yemen is its largest anywhere in the world, with over 20 million Yemenis plunged into food insecurity. Yemen, which also has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world, was listed by the United Nations as the world’s number one humanitarian crisis.

In 2017, the organisation warned that food was being used as a “weapon of war” by Saudi Arabia, who later was found to be systematically targeting Yemen’s food sources in siege tactics, following bomb attacks on fishermen in Yemen.

In July, WFP called for an “urgent injection of funds” to provide food assistance in Yemen, warning that unless action was taken, “we are going to find ourselves right back where we were in 2018, when we had to fight our way back from the brink of a full-scale famine”.

Syria

The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since March 2011, displacing millions of people from their homes and leaving those who remain with little access to sufficient food and aid. Last December, nearly a million people were forced to flee their homes after an escalation in conflict in northwest Syria and western Aleppo.

WFP, which feeds on average 4.5 million Syrians each month, launched an emergency response in the country and scaled up ongoing humanitarian operations in the northwest to provide emergency food assistance through its cross-border operation from Turkey.

But the organisation is in need of US$197 million in funding until November 2020 to meet the needs of over five million displaced people in the country and neighbouring countries each month. WFP was forced to reduce the calories in food baskets to make up for a shortfall in funding.

Other countries classified by WFP as Level 3 (L3) emergencies, which are too large for the organisation’s local offices to handle and require a global response, include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeastern Nigeria, the Sahel, and South Sudan.

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