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The best news of 2020

Oct 14,2020 - Last updated at Oct 14,2020

The award of the 101st Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme (WFP) is the best news of 2020, the globe's annus horribilis. The WFP was cited for its efforts to combat world hunger and "to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict". The organisation was not only chosen for its life-saving work but also for the message it sends to isolationists, nationalists and xenophobes. The highly coveted Peace Prize shows them that their rejection of international accords, treaties, and organisations cannot be tolerated. Countries have to cooperate in order to curb and beat both hunger and the coronavirus pandemic which is deepening the hunger crisis.

This is an overdue award to an organisation which operates on the world stage. In previous years, the prize has genereraly gone to worthy but largely unknown individuals fighting battles in their own countries. This year the list of candidates included 211 individuals and 107 organisations, including Donald Trump who was nominated by right-wing European rather than US politicians but, as he is a disrupter rather than promoter of peace, had no chance of winning. The World Health Organisation, which Trump has defunded, and Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg were among the likely candidates.  A dozen UN agencies have previously been Nobel Prize laureates. The UN high commissioner for Refugees received the award twice.

Some awards have been controversial, some too early in the career of the recipient. For example, the 2009 presentation to Barack Obama, the first US Black president, only months after he assumed office was unearned and ultimately undeserved, as he did nothing to halt conflicts at home and abroad that erupted during his two terms.

Similarly, last Year's prize was granted too early.  It went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Ably Ahmed, a former army officer who took power in April 2018, brokered peace deals with Eritrea and Sudan and initiated reforms. It remains to be seen if peace endures and reforms are enacted.

WFP director David Beasley called the award an "honour and a blessing [particularly] in a time like this". The the number of people facing starvation around the globe doubled from 135 to 270 million people since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, he revealed.

He continued, "With all the wealth in the world today, we have a cure for starvation, we have a cure for famine, we have a cure, and it's called food. But we need the money" to provide food.

The WFP will receive $1 million in cash from the Prize committee, but he said the organisation needs $5 billion in addition to the $6.3 billion already donated to feed 30 million hungry and starving people. He called on the world's 2,000 billionaires, who have made huge profits from their businesses during the pandemic, to contribute. This amounts to an extraordinary appeal to individuals as governments are under financial stress due to a covid-driven economic recession. "Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us seen in our lifetimes," Beasley stated.

The progamme is feeding nearly 100 million people due to covid, its economic impact and warfare. A covid survivor and former governor of the US state of South Carolina, Beasley said that unless the WFP secures the financial resources, "millions upon millions of people are going to die over the next few months".

The UN's largest agency, which provides food, distributes medicine and carries out development projects, the WFP has faced unprecedented challenges during the year of covid. Borders have closed, making its difficult to move large amounts of food and medicine. Distribution facilities have shuttered and networks disrupted. The flow of remittances to families from wealthy relatives has dried up. Beasley said the WFP had to combat two pandemics: covid and hunger.

Established in 1961, the WFP has become a major player on the world stage by addressing humanitarian disasters, wars, tsunamis and earthquakes. The organisation employs 17,000 people who work in 88 countries and has 20 ships, 90 aircraft, and 5,600 lorries operating on a daily basis.  The WFP depends on donations, with the US providing the largest amount: last year this was $3.4 billion, this year $2.7 billion. The next three major donors are Germany, the European Commission and Britain. Beasley, a Republican, was chosen in 2017 to lead the organisation by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the hope that the tight-fisted Trump administration would maintain funding.  The dedicated, energetic Beasley, who was among 27 candidates, has been a good bet. 

While serving as South Carolina’s governor between 1995-1999, he made risky choices, particularly for a Democrat turned Republican. The popular Beasley was considered too moderate on the race issue for conservatives and called for the removal from the state house dome of the Confederate flag, a symbol of white supremacy. These views were well ahead of the times for a southern politician. After being defeated for re-election, he was appointed a fellow at Harvard University and he was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage by US Senator Ted Kennedy, the slain president's brother.

The WFP's award coincides with an assessment of the global situation by the Global Hunger Index.  The survey shows that the goal of "zero hunger" by 2030 is unlikely to be achieved. Thirty-seven countries will not reach even "low" hunger levels while in many countries the situation "is progressing too slowly or even worsening".

Furthermore, "alarming levels" of hunger were found in half a dozen sub-Saharan African countries as well as Syria and Yemen. To make matters worse, the downward slide in countries losing the battle against hunger tracked by the Index did not take into consideration the negative impact of Covid-19 across the world.

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