World Food Program Wins 2020 Nobel Peace Prize

This year’s award seeks to highlight the need for global solidarity in a time of crisis, says prize committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen

An black and white illustration of a gathering of food-- corn, wheat, surrounded by laurels-- with the text THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE 2020, with gold accents
The United Nation's World Food Program claimed this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Courtesy of the Nobel Prize Committee / Illustration by Niklas Elmehed

The World Food Program (WFP), a United Nations organization dedicated to combating conflict by addressing food insecurity around the globe, has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Announcing the win Friday, the prize committee cited the WFP’s efforts to “prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

In recognition of the honor, the Rome-based organization will receive a 10-million krona—about $1.1 million—cash prize. As the Associated Press reports, the WFP’s annual budget dwarfs this figure. The world’s largest humanitarian group focused on food security, it has already received about $6.4 billion in cash and goods, including more than $2.7 billion from the United States, in 2020.

Global food insecurity rates were already high at the start of this year. In 2019, a record 135 million people worldwide suffered from acute hunger—an uptick due in part to an increase in war and armed conflict. Last year, the WFP provided food assistance to 100 million people in 88 countries, per a Nobel statement.

Then, the Covid-19 pandemic—which has infected more than 36 million people worldwide and killed more than 1 million, per Johns Hopkins University—arrived, sharply exacerbating food insecurity by limiting income and disrupting global supply chains.

In late June, the WFP announced plans to increase the number of people assisted from 97 million to 138 million. According to the organization’s models, 270 million people worldwide could be pushed “toward the brink of starvation” by the end of 2020, marking an 82 percent increase from before the pandemic began.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Arif Husain, WFP’s chief economist, told the New York Times’ Abdi Latif Dahir in April. “It wasn’t a pretty picture to begin with, but this makes it truly unprecedented and uncharted territory.”

In remarks shared shortly after the announcement, Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said that this year’s prize seeks to highlight the need for global solidarity in a time of crisis.

“Multilateral cooperation is absolutely necessary to combat global challenges,” she added, as quoted by the AP. “And multilateralism seems to have a lack of respect these days.”

Reiss-Andersen’s comments seemed to be directed, at least in part, toward U.S. President Donald Trump, who has publicly criticized the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, among other international groups, write Chico Harlan and Michael Birnbaum for the Washington Post.

As Megan Specia and Matina Stevis-Gridneff report for the New York Times, one of the WFP’s key messages is that food insecurity results from human action, not natural or uncontrollable forces. In recent years, extreme weather events linked to human-caused climate change and an increase in armed conflict have created significant disruptions in food supply chains around the globe.

The WFP has faced particular challenges combating food insecurity in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States enforced economic measures that contributed to a severe, widespread hunger crisis, as the Post previously reported in 2018. More than 20 million people in Yemen remain in crisis, with more than 3 million at risk of starvation due to Covid-19, according to the Post’s Harlan and Birnbaum.

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley in the June statement. “Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger.”

The World Health Organization’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed his congratulations for the WFP on Twitter, writing, “Huge admiration and respect for the life-saving work you do for people in need everywhere.” As Emma Reynolds notes for CNN, the WHO was also considered a frontrunner for this year’s award.

In a statement reacting to the award announcement, Beasley affirmed his organization’s stance that global peace and food security go hand in hand.

“Without peace, we cannot achieve our global goal of zero hunger,” he said, “and while there is hunger, we will never have a peaceful world.”

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