Today's Editorial - 11 October 2020
Nobel Peace Prize 2020
On 9 October 2020, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize 2020 to the United Nation’s (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger and for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for preventing the use of hunger being weaponized in war and conflict.
In his will, signed by Alfred Nobel on November 27, 1985, he mentioned that one part of his fortune that went towards the Nobel Prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
The Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded since 1901 and was not awarded on 19 occasions including 1914-1916, 1918, 1939-1943 among some other years.
This is because the statutes of the Nobel Foundation mention, “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds.” Therefore, fewer awards were given during the two World Wars.
Overall, the prize has been awarded to 135 laureates, including 107 individuals and 28 organisations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the prize twice.
So far, the youngest laureate is Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 years old when she won in 2014 and the oldest recipient was Joseph Rotblat who was given the award at the age of 87 in 1995.
So what is the UN WFP and why did it win the prize?
The WFP, which was established in 1961 at the behest of the US president Dwight Eisenhower, is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation (certified as the largest by the Guinness World Records in 2002) committed towards its global goal of ending hunger by the year 2030. Eisenhower proposed to the UN General Assembly on September 1, 1960, that a, “workable scheme should be devised for providing food aid through the UN system.”
In 2015, eradication of world hunger became one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and WFP is the UN’s primary instrument in achieving that goal. Other UN agencies that work towards providing food security include the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Other UN SDGs include ending poverty, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, providing quality education and affordable and clean energy among others.
WFP was awarded the peace prize “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 efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
WFP runs entirely on public donations and was able to raise over $8 billion last year. Its donors include governments, corporations and individuals.
How does WFP help people?
WFP provides food assistance in two ways, either by way of providing food or by meeting people’s food-needs by providing cash-based transfers. The cash-based transfers were launched for the first time in 2005 in response to the tsunami in Sri Lanka.
In 2019, WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people spread across 88 countries by supplying them with over 4.2 million metric tonnes of food and $1.2 billion in cash and vouchers.
In 1962, the WFP undertook its first emergency operation after an earthquake in Iran killed over 12,000 people; in 1963, the organisation launched its first development programme in Sudan.
In 1989, WFP staged the largest humanitarian airdrop in history involving 20 cargo aircraft when it launched “Operation Lifeline Sudan” to provide assistance to millions of people affected by the civil war that played out in the southern part of the country.
More recently, the organisation has provided food aid to over 4.5 million victims of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, in 2011 to millions of people affected by the Syrian conflict, in 2014 to people affected by the Ebola outbreak and in 2015 to the Nepal earthquake survivors.
How does WFP measure hunger?
The organisation estimates hunger by the prevalence of undernourishment. The UN defines undernourished or food-deprived people as those individuals whose food intake falls below the minimum level of dietary energy requirements.
These dietary energy requirements are set by sex and age groups in consultation between the FAO, UN and WHO. The energy requirement is the amount of energy from food required to balance energy expenditure in order to maintain body-weight, body composition and a level of necessary and desirable physical activity that is consistent with long-term good health, as per the UN.
According to current estimates, about 8.9 per cent of the world’s population or about 690 million people are hungry and as per WFP if the current trends continue, by 2030 there will be 840 million hungry people.
Further, about 135 million suffer from acute hunger mainly as a result of man-made conflicts, climate change and economic downturns. WFP estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could possibly double the figure.