Nobel Peace Prize to World Food Programme is a well-deserved recognition

It may appear rather incredulous for many people to know that US President Donald Trump, who is facing his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in the Nov 3 presidential election and has been the subject of global criticism from liberals, has supported the work of WFP to the hilt, writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor 

Rajendra Shende Nov 02, 2020

When 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore, former Vice President of the US, there was a global appreciation of the work done by the winners in bringing  the climate change issue at the centre of the current and future decision-making by governments, businesses, and even individuals.

Al Gore is the world’s leading environmentalist politician and the single person who has done the most to create a greater understanding worldwide of the measures that need to be adopted to mitigate climate change. 

The IPCC, a panel convened by two of the UN’s leading environmental agencies, United Nations Environment (UNE) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), was able to create ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries had collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of warming and what are the possible remedies. 

However, there were a restive qualm and a nagging marvel about how their work on global warming is at all related to peace and why the Nobel Prize related to peace is given to two winners. The answer was smartly embedded with convincing clarity in the press release by the Norwegian Nobel Committee as well as the symbolic visits of the then United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon. 

IPCC & Al Gore

Indeed, the decision by Nobel Committee in awarding the Nobel Prize to IPCC and Al Gore was uniquely futuristic.  The Committee in its press release in 2007 stated that “Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.” 

Immediately after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2007, the then newly elected UNSG visited Antarctica.  After taking the world’s topmost job, UNSGs are known to be visiting the refugee camps and countries that are in conflicts to signify the UN’s work-priority which is  enshrined in its charter, ‘maintain international peace and security.’ 

Ban Ki-moon became the first UNSG to make an official visit to Antarctica, which is not a zone of conflicts and war. As he travelled to the frozen continent to see first-hand the effects of climate change that included its thawing glaciers, melting sheets of ice - for the first time in thousands of years - he very effectively sent a message to the world. That message was about the consequences of climate change like sea-level rise, the massive thaw of drifting icebergs, droughts in the tropics, floods in the rivers, and non-stoppable land-slides. They were already triggering massive migration, hunger, and extreme poverty, which together made a perfect recipe for conflicts, unrest, and war. Peace is in peril due to climate change. That was Ban Ki-moon’s pointer standing in Antarctica. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been given to more than 100 individuals and nearly 25 organizations till now. But never before the message given by Ban Ki-moon, from the continent at the bottom of the planet, was so effective.  It also more than justified the Nobel Peace Prize to IPCC and Al Gore. 

WFP and it's many contributions

On October 9, 2020, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and improve conditions for peace. The link between food, hunger, and threat to peace is now more evident than the link between climate change and peace in 2007. The world is living with the threat as it is learning to live with COVID19. In fact, the United Nations Security Council – the highest global body for maintaining international peace and security – has passed a historic resolution in 2018 clearly delineating the link between hunger and conflict.

The spiraling disaster caused by conflicts, lead to food crises, which cause greater food insecurity that in turn drives unrest and violence. Conflicts and unrests like the Arab Spring and South Sudanese wars are now perennial threats to people there. It is also caused when humans face life-threatening situations caused due to migration from Latin America, Africa, and South and South-East Asian countries, mainly Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This makes the work of WFP in supplying food so essential.

The Nobel Peace Prize to WFP was clearly well-deserved recognition. It combats hunger to create an ecosystem for peace and more importantly it acts as a driving force in the efforts to prevent use of hunger as a weapon for war.

Out of 700 million hungry - and they are growing faster than expected due to COVID pandemic - more than 60 percent are from countries affected by conflicts. What more, nearly 80 million people representing more than 50 percent of the population that  face acute hunger are in 22 countries affected by conflict and insecurity, as per Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) in 2020.

The WFP, however, does not serve only in conflict-ridden area. It also rushes help when famines and other natural and man-made disasters affect daily life, like in North Korea, Burkina Faso and North-East Nigeria.

It is the world’s largest humanitarian agency, assisting totally 100 million people including school children in 88 countries. Fight against malnutrition is an important dimension of the WFP work. The majority of the food that WFP distributes is purchased from developing countries and from small farmers. It also helps the farmers in preventing the degradation of the land and the use of sustainable and climate-friendly practices in agriculture as part of adaptation.

Trump support to WFP

It may appear rather incredulous for many people to know that US President Donald Trump, who is facing his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in the Nov 3 presidential election and has been the subject of global criticism from liberals, has supported the work of WFP to the hilt.  Ever since Trump’s election as President of the United States, the US contribution to WFP has increased by 58 per cent to USD 3.36 billion in 2019. That constitutes nearly 40 per cent of WFP’s total budget. The idea of WFP, interestingly, was floated in the 1960s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican. The present Executive Director of WFP is a former Republican governor of South Carolina, David Beasley.

The former US ambassador to the UN, Nicky Haley, a Republican and a former South Carolina governor, had nominated Beasley for WFP’s Executive Director’s post in 2017 and he was subsequently selected in the same year from among more than 20 candidates.  

All such credits do not seem to matter in the US election which is dominated by COVID and the state of the economy.  But whatever be the outcome of this keenly contested election, the much-maligned  Trump must get credit where it's due. 

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP. The views expressed are personal)

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