WFP wins Nobel Peace prize: From Yemen to Sudan, UN agency fights hunger in food-deprived places, war zones

Since its formation in 1961, WFP has worked tirelessly to battle hunger during cirises: From the 1980 famine in Ethiopia, the 2004 tsunami in Asia, to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and now the pandemic

FP Staff October 09, 2020 23:10:55 IST
WFP wins Nobel Peace prize: From Yemen to Sudan, UN agency fights hunger in food-deprived places, war zones

The United Nation's World Food Programme won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to combat hunger across the globe through decades, and most importantly, amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic that has made millions more vulnerable to hunger and poverty.

The award recognises the UN agency's work in combatting hunger and food insecurity in regions of conflict and hardship around the globe.

In announcing the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it wished "to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger."

The committee also said it hopes the prize will highlight the need to strengthen global solidarity and cooperation in an era of 'go-it-alone nationalism.'

What is the World Food Programme?

Founded in 1961 after a proposal by US president Dwight D Eisenhower, the World Food Programme, has been working from behind-the-scenes in providing help to people.

In total, WFP estimates that 690 million people suffer some form of hunger in the world today.

The UN agency specialises in getting assistance to some of the world’s most dangerous and precarious places, from air-dropping food in South Sudan and Syria to creating an emergency delivery service that kept aid flowing even as pandemic restrictions grounded commercial flights.

It played a crucial role in providing assitance during the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the 2004 tsunami in Asia and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The Rome-based organisation provided food to some 97 million people across 88 countries last year, and is present in many of the world's deadliest war zones, including its biggest emergency operation in Yemen, where it aims to feed 13 million people every month.

What's the award?

The Nobel Peacee Prize comes with a gold medal and a 10-milion krona ($1.1 million) cash prize.

Though the cash prize is too less as compared to the the funding that WFP requires for its work, the prize is a recognition of the efforts of its 17,000 staff across the world.

Many of those with the agency work in dangerous places risking their lives everyday. Just this week, gunmen fired on a WFP boat convoy carrying food aid to flood-stricken communities in South Sudan. WFP said three crew members were wounded and another was missing and likely dead.

According to The Associated Press, so far in 2020, the WFP has already received $6.4 billion in cash or goods in 2020 -- over $2.7 billion coming from the United States alone.

According to its official website, the agency earned $8 billion in 2019.

Providing aid amid coronavirus pandemic

A logistics juggernaut, WFP this year created a global emergency delivery service for humanitarian aid. Officials said the unprecedented effort involved nearly 130 countries and was key in ensuring that aid for the pandemic kept flowing in addition to other assistance, like the drugs and vaccines needed to combat other diseases.

In the coming years, the WFP is likely to play even more crucial role in fighting food insecurity across the globe, made worse by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Food as an instrument of peace

Announcing the award in Oslo, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said “The World Food Programme plays a key role in multilateral cooperation on making food security an instrument of peace.” And rightly so.

In war-torn Yemen, described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, millions depend each month on WFP for survival, writes AP.

Last year, WFP partially suspended its operations in the rebel-held capital over accusations that the Houthis were stealing the food aid.

Still, WFP’s large-scale operations are considered indispensable in the Arab world’s poorest country, where 20 million people are suffering from a hunger crisis and another 3 million face starvation due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

The agency helped avert famine two years ago.

WFP wins Nobel Peace prize From Yemen to Sudan UN agency fights hunger in fooddeprived places war zones

A file image of a displaced Yemeni from the year 2019, carrying food aid provided by the World Food Program, at a school in Sanaa, Yemen. AP

The World Food Programme has also been crucial in providing food aid in Syria where rival groups but mostly government forces have imposed months-long sieges as a weapon of war, leading to major shortages of food in populated civilian areas.

The eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus, the central city of Homs and rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, all came under siege by government forces over the course of the country's civil war.

During truces, the WFP occasionally managed to take limited amounts of food into besieged towns, where dozens have died of malnutrition and hunger-related illnesses.

Delivering food in Africa

In Africa, the WFP has been active in South Sudan, where over half the population is hungry, even two years after the official end of a civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and sent more than 2 million fleeing the country.

The agency has continued its work of reaching out those in need of assistance despite the threat of deadly violence in what remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers.

Just this week, gunmen fired on a WFP boat convoy carrying food aid to flood-stricken communities. WFP said three crew members were wounded and another was missing and likely dead.

In neighbouring Sudan, where inflation has soared to 166 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented 9.6 million people are facing potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity in Sudan.

The cash-strapped transitional government that took power after the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir is struggling to stop the tailspin. During the pandemic, the number of children going hungry has doubled to 1.1 million.

According to The Associated Press, WFP provides food aid to the Kalma displacement camp the war-ravaged region of Darfur in Sudan.

The agency's aid has most recently helped fend off malnutrition for those suffering from the fallout of virus-induced lockdowns, severe floods and bouts of ethnic violence.

WFP wins Nobel Peace prize From Yemen to Sudan UN agency fights hunger in fooddeprived places war zones

File image of workers delivering UN World Food Programme (WFP) aid in Aslam, Hajjah in Yemen. AP

Beyond food, educating world on nutrition

According to Agence France-Presse, the WFP's mission goes beyond food handouts, and includes educating families on child nutrition and helping them to become self-reliant.

In Turkey, where the WFP works with the government and other agencies to help Syrian refugees, it has recently expanded into providing vocational programmes — training both Syrians and Turks in a bid to build social cohesion.

In the Central African Republic, the WFP feeds some 750,000 people every month.

The Nobel is a "recognition of all the work the WFP has done in the most difficult crises, the most vulnerable areas," Vigno Hounkanli, communications director in the capital Bangui, told Agence France-Presse.

"Here we work in a very difficult context. The teams go to very remote places, often putting their lives at risk, and I'm thinking now of our colleagues who gave their lives to save others."

Mawa Coulibaly, 49, has been working in the CAR for seven years and is currently with a 15-strong team in the volatile northwest where brutal militias often target aid workers and peacekeepers.

She spoke of her "great pride" over the Nobel.

"I'm proud because I know the work we do to bring communities together," she said.

"The terrain is very difficult here," she added. "The roads are very bad and in the rainy season, it's very complicated. And we're on the border with Cameroon and Chad, so there are many robberies on the road."

With inputs from agencies

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