Not all the recipients of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize were able to attend the award ceremony on 10 December in person. And it’s wasn’t because of Covid-19 restrictions. The prize is shared by over 17,000 people – that’s the total number of employees at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the 2020 winner.
I personally find it inspiring how, through determination and dedication, the 17,000 employees enable the WFP to provide food and assistance to the vulnerable wherever it’s needed around the globe. In 2019, close to 100 million people in 88 countries, all victims of acute food insecurity, benefited from the work of the organization. Over 90% of its members are based on the ground, often in crisis zones. They are faced with the most difficult of circumstances on a daily basis. Circumstances unimaginable to most of us.
"The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize is a timely recognition of the WFP’s humanitarian efforts"
It’s not surprising then that the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has attracted neither criticism nor controversy. Instead, the decision to award the prize to the WFP was met with unanimous support around the world. To me, it feels like the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize is a timely recognition of the WFP’s humanitarian efforts.
And although I say we should applaud the 17,000 people who share the prize, the spotlight does need to shine on the head of the WFP, David Beasley, and in particular on his humble reaction to the news: "Holy mackerel. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been without words," he declared in the first interview with the Committee, deeply moved. It was a delight to hear, and you can listen to it here.
Beasley also paid tribute to the staff. "I’m not deserving of this award," he highlighted. "But the many men and women that lay their lives on the line every day at the World Food Programme, they’re deserving of this award, for what they’re doing, and what they have done and what they’re going to do." He’s absolutely right, and I commend the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for their choice.
The award notably draws attention to the WFP’s sustained efforts to achieve Zero Hunger around the world, which is the second of the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. But it’s highly unlikely – make that impossible in my opinion – that this goal will be achieved by the 2030 deadline set by the UN, and agreed by the 193 heads of state who signed up to the vision in 2015.
Instead of Zero Hunger, the WFP calculated that the number of people who will be facing an acute food crisis may have doubled by the end of 2020. Rising from 135m in 2019 to 265m. In total, the number of people suffering from undernourishment is estimated to rise to 850 million by 2030, possibly even a billion. It had been on the way down, dropping to around 690 million in 2019. The numbers are staggering. And they are going in the wrong direction.
Tragically, at a time when the organization’s workload is increasing, its funding is decreasing. The coronavirus pandemic has played a role in both developments. Food insecurity has spread with the virus, while Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on both developed and emerging economies. In many countries, GDP continues to fall. The significance of this could be huge for the WFP, as many countries tie contributions to their GDP.
Undoubtedly, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has rightly raised the profile of this worthy organisation, and it has also increased awareness of the importance of its contribution to society as a whole.
In scale, the WFP is unlike anything else in the world, and as such it serves as an inspiration to others to take up the battle against food poverty. Or, at least to consider a personal donation as we start the new year, as I will unashamedly suggest.