A worthy Nobel for United Nations World Food Program


The cascading global governance, health, economic and environmental crises have exacerbated the food crisis. So it was fitting that an indefatigable international institution dedicated to fighting hunger — the United Nations World Food Program — won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the WFP “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in the efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

This insidious use of food as a weapon is particularly pernicious, Gina Torry, the director of the International Center for Dialogue and Peacebuilding, told an editorial writer in an e-mail exchange.

“In today’s conflicts, conventional weapons of war, such as guns and explosives, are no longer the only weapon of choice,” said Torry, who formerly ran the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. “Intentional starvation of civilian populations is a method and tactic of conflict used to achieve political and military objectives. We’ve seen this, for instance, in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Weaponized starvation exacerbates conflict and disproportionately harms women, children and the elderly.”

The Nobel Committee concurred, saying in its announcement that “the link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious cycle: war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict.”

Last year, the WFP provided assistance to about 100 million people in 88 countries. This year, the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse in many countries have amplified the tragedy of hunger. The WFP reports a doubling of the number of people who are acutely food insecure — from about 135 million to 270 million.

“We have hunger going up, we have poverty going up, we have unemployment going up, we have incomes coming down, and we have prices going up,” Arif Husain, the WFP’s chief economist, said at the Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum on Monday.

Throughout the years, individuals and institutions alike have been named Nobel laureates. Organizations “do the international grunt work — the daily grind of providing these much-needed services that help maintain what little global order we have,” Joe Underhill, an Augsburg University associate professor of political science and former program director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and Human Rights Forum, told an editorial writer via e-mail.

The committee is “signaling its longstanding support for multilateral diplomacy and for a global order supported by international institutions,” Underhill said. “As with issues they have highlighted in the past — such as climate change, refugee crises, land mines, and so on — the Nobel Committee has strongly supported internationalist responses. Given the resurgence of nationalism we are seeing around the globe, in addition of course to the pandemic and economic crisis, this award is particularly timely.”

Timely, and worthy, to be sure. As the WFP itself has stated, “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against the chaos.”

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