By Nerijus Adomaitis and Stephanie Nebehay
OSLO/GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations’ World Food Programme, which has coordinated medical logistics during the coronavirus pandemic, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in what its boss said was a call to action that no one should go hungry with the wealth in the world today.
The head of the awards committee called the WFP a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, and said the COVID-19 pandemic, which the WFP says could double hunger worldwide, had made it even more relevant.
At one point at the height of the pandemic, as airlines were cutting back flights, the WFP was running the largest operational airline in the world, a WFP spokesman said.
The Rome-based organisation says it helps some 97 million people in about 88 countries each year, and that one in nine people worldwide still do not have enough to eat.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley told Reuters the prize was a clarion call “to our donors around the world” and “to the billionaires who are making billions off COVID”.
“It’s a call to action to not let anyone die from starvation, it’s a call to action that we’ve got to save and help our friends, our brothers, our sisters around the world,” he said.
“All the wealth in the world today no one should go to bed hungry, much less starve to death.”
Only this week, a report by UBS and PwC found billionaire wealth had reached a record high during the pandemic, helped by a rally in stock prices.
“The need for international solidarity and multilateral cooperation is more conspicuous than ever,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told a news conference.
WFP runs a logistics service that has dispatched medical cargoes to over 120 countries throughout the pandemic to help governments and health partners fighting COVID-19.
It has also provided passenger services to ferry humanitarian and health workers where commercial flights were unavailable.
“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” the Nobel committee said in its citation.
Beasley, travelling in Niger, posted a video statement on social media praising the “WFP family”.
“They are out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes – it doesn’t matter. They are out there and they deserve this award …,” he said.
In Geneva, WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters:
“When everything went into shutdown mode, the World Food Programme was there. When everyone was leaving and we were going into lockdowns, the World Food Programme had to provide the logistical support that the world deserved, that the world needed.”
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the Norwegian Nobel Committee had wanted to send a message of both hope and “support for international cooperation”.
“Hunger, like climate change, the pandemic and other issues, is a world problem that can only be properly addressed through cooperation,” he told Reuters.
“Unfortunately, in too many quarters, especially among the great powers, there is a declining appetite for cooperation.”
He noted that, after declining for several decades, world hunger had been on the rise again since 2016.
The United Nations, which turns 75 this month, has itself won the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, as have several of its agencies, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNICEF children’s fund and its peacekeeping forces.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee plans to go ahead with an award ceremony, albeit in a reduced format due to the pandemic, in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.
The Nobel Peace Prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns, or around $1.1 million.
(Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik, Victoria Klesty and Nora Buli in Oslo, Emma Farge in Geneva and Souleymane Ag Anara in Niamey; Writing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)