October 10, 2020
FILE – A man carries a sack of flour distributed by World Food Program staff in Aweil in the northern Bahr el Ghazal state in South Sudan, Dec. 29, 2010. PHOTO: REUTERS
By Carol Van Dam | VOA News
The World Food Program has won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and to improve conditions for peace in conflict areas.
The WFP said it was “deeply humbled” to have won.
“This is an incredible recognition of the WFP family, working to end hunger every day in 80+ countries,” tweeted WFP Executive Director David Beasley, who described himself as “speechless” in a video posted to the platform.
“They’re out there; poor countries, climate extremes, it doesn’t matter, they’re out there and they deserve this award,” he said of his colleagues.
The chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, announced the 2020 laureate at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, where coronavirus restrictions significantly reduced the number of reporters allowed in the room.
Bid to focus attention
Reiss-Andersen said the committee gave the award to the WFP because it wanted to “turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger,” which she described as a “weapon of war and conflict.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated Beasley “and the entire staff” for advancing the values of the United Nations.
“I am delighted by the decision of the Nobel Committee to award this year’s Prize for Peace to the United Nations World Food Program,” Guterres said. “The World Food Program is the world’s first responder on the frontlines of food insecurity.”
The U.N. chief said he has seen for himself how the men and women of the WFP work “in the most remote and dangerous locations with enormous courage, dedication and competence, serving the most vulnerable of the vulnerable people of this world.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the WFP for its “efforts for combating hunger” and its “contribution to creating peace in conflicted-affected areas.”
Attack on cargo boats
One of those conflict zones is South Sudan, where earlier this week, four WFP cargo boats loaded with food items were attacked. One crew member is missing and presumed dead, and three others suffered gunshot wounds.
The U.S. State Department released a statement Friday saying it was “deeply concerned” about the attack. “We express our sympathy to the family of the missing aid worker and wish the wounded a full and swift recovery.” It said humanitarian aid workers in South Sudan and throughout the region “work under extremely challenging conditions to assist some of the world’s most vulnerable men, women and children.”
The State Department said this week’s attack was the second assault on humanitarian cargo vessels in the area in the past two months, and it called on the South Sudan government to investigate “fully and expeditiously and provide the security necessary to ensure the safety of aid workers who are delivering critical lifesaving services and assistance.”
The boat convoy was headed to Malakal and Melut in Upper Nile state to deliver aid to people displaced by floods when it was ambushed. The vessels were carrying 225 metric tons of food, according to Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director for South Sudan.
“In that ambush one of the vessels was sunk, losing the food we loaded on the vessel,” Hollingworth told South Sudan in Focus. The boat that sank was carrying 50 tons of food.
“Every act of violence against humanitarian workers, be it the transporting or delivering of humanitarian services in the country, it slows down our work, it makes our work harder to do and it has a serious impact on South Sudanese citizens,” Hollingworth told VOA.
WFP boat convoys in South Sudan have been suspended until the WFP is confident the perpetrators of the latest attack are found and held accountable, according to Hollingworth.
In addition to a 5½-year civil war, South Sudanese have had to cope with a deteriorating economy, reduced crop production and a large dependence on imports, which means many do not have regular access to nutritious food.
Millions of people in South Sudan face acute food insecurity this year, in part because of the partial lockdown and other measures put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Collapsing oil prices have also hurt South Sudan’s economy as oil accounts for 98.8% of the country’s total exports. Floods and swarms of desert locusts have wiped out millions of acres of crops.
The U.N. agency provided assistance to nearly 100 million people in 88 countries last year who were victims of acute food insecurity and hunger, according to the WFP.
The agency was created in 1961, following calls from former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower for “a workable scheme” to be devised for providing food aid through the U.N. system.