The head of the World Food Programme (WFP) used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to warn that a “hunger pandemic” worse than COVID-19 was on the horizon unless the needs of millions of people worldwide are addressed.
Speaking on Thursday during a scaled-back, online ceremony short on traditional festivities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said: “Famine is at humanity’s doorstep for millions and millions of people on Earth.
“Failure to prevent famine in our day will destroy so many lives and cause the fall of much that we hold dear.
“I wish today I could speak of how working together we could end world hunger for all the 690 million people who go to bed hungry every night, but today we have a crisis at hand.”
Beasley’s comments came after the WFP was awarded the Nobel Committee’s most prestigious prize in October for its efforts to combat hunger and improve conditions for peace.
Picking up the Nobel gold medal and diploma, he said the award was “more than a thank you”.
“It is a call to action,” Beasley said. “Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse, 270 million people are marching towards starvation.
“Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID.”
The largest humanitarian organisation working to end famine, the WFP feeds tens of millions of people each year across all continents.
It is the twelfth UN organisation or member to win a Nobel prize.
Traditions adapt to pandemic
The Nobel awards are traditionally presented on December 10 – the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize founder Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist and philanthropist – at lavish ceremonies held in the Swedish and Norwegian capitals, Stockholm and Oslo respectively.
But the pandemic saw scaled-back festivities this year, both in Oslo where the Peace Prize is typically announced and presented, and in Stockholm, which is home to the prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics.
In order respect social distancing measures, only Berit Reiss-Andersen, the head of the five-member Nobel committee, took part in events from Oslo.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was not possible to host you [the WFP] in Oslo today,” she said, from the Nobel Institute.
“But we are together, despite the distance forced upon us by the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, in Stockholm, events were mostly pre-recorded for an online broadcast.
“This year has been difficult for us, as it has been for many others as well,” the director of the Nobel Institute, Olav Njolstad, told the AFP news agency on the eve of Thursday’s ceremony.
“It’s a shame that the laureate misses out on the usual magic but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Njolstad tried to put a positive spin on the situation, suggesting: “It’s very possible that, paradoxically, more people than usual will watch the prize ceremony since we’ve gone to so much effort to be present online.”