During a food delivery in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2011.
The UN institution is rewarded by the Swedish Academy as it faces a historic challenge: in the midst of a pandemic, funds are lacking while needs increase.
Tribune. Rewarded for the twelfth time by the Nobel Prize, the United Nations (agencies or related persons) are congratulated on October 9 for the World Food Program (WFP), which works “To eradicate hunger in more than eighty countries”. The chairman of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, praised the effort “In the fight against hunger, contributing to improving the conditions of peace in areas affected by conflict and the leading role played in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war.” She said she wished to promote multilateral solutions at a time when selfishness continues to tear the fabric of global solidarity.
Since hunger was conceptualized by the Brazilian geographer and biologist Josué de Castro in the 1940s, states have become aware of the urgency to deal with this tragedy, especially after World War II. The United Nations then scrambled to help overcome the dramatic effects of this “war weapon” used on many conflicts that have erupted in the last half century. The WFP was created for this purpose in 1962 and integrated three years later at the UN in Rome with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) . It is, in fact, for the United Nations one of the operational agencies on the ground. But on the PAM baptismal font, Dwight Eisenhower’s insistence on the birth of the PAM made people cringe. Have we not accused the former American president of having pushed the UN to buy the agricultural surpluses of the United States to distribute them to the developing countries that were then called the Third World?
WFP’s first mission took it to Iran, which suffered an earthquake in 1963. Gradually, it put in place structural measures, such as feeding children at school. Currently, just over a million women and children under the age of five are assisted by nutritional programs in Syria and in a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For a long time, we have laughed at the mediocre diet provided to the populations. Today, the WFP shows great care given to the specific needs of pregnant or breastfeeding women, a greater concern for local diets, even prevention and hygiene.
WFP has always been funded only through voluntary contributions. He raised eight billion funds for the year 2019. He assisted nearly one hundred million people in eighty-eight that same year by distributing fifteen billion rations without succeeding in eradicating hunger.
Shaken by the Covid-19
Since the spring, the Covid-19 crisis has been marked by an upsurge in hunger according to the latest FAO report (joint with the WFP, WHO, Unicef, IFAD) of July 13 when world agriculture produces enough food. With nearly 700 million people, or nearly 9% of the world’s population, the proportion of humans affected by hunger is expected to increase by ten points over the next decade. In 2020 alone, SARS-CoV-2 will put just over a hundred million people into hunger. For the moment, it is the Asians who are affected (nearly four hundred million) but the growth is exponential in Africa and a little less in Central America. At their own risk, WFP humanitarians go out to meet them with donkeys, camels, elephants and even helicopters.
Upstream of field operations, the forty-five humanitarian partner organizations of WFP have a battery of one hundred freight planes, thirty ships and five thousand six hundred trucks which, in the event of an emergency, can transport considerable volumes of emergency medical supplies, including masks and ventilators. Once there, the WFP builds, when conditions allow, field hospitals, in Africa in particular, from where medical evacuations with air ambulances are possible. This spring, there are 14,500 m3 of goods linked to Covid-19 in 129 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. “Sufficient cargo to fill 120 Jumbo Jets awaiting transport in the coming weeks”, according to the UN agency.
A threatened agency
Everything is not easy, far from it. WFP has repeatedly threatened to stop its humanitarian flights for lack of funding. Last July, WFP’s air fleet came close to being grounded, in part due to travel bans and border closures that created “logistical nightmares for the delivery of humanitarian aid and personnel” , according to the United Nations review Africa Renewal.
WFP logistics is a geopolitical goldsmith’s work which relies on “world aid centers” located in Belgium for Europe, in China for Asia, but also in Dubai and in the United Arab Emirates, whose central geographical position is an asset. Regional centers are located in Ghana for West Africa, Ethiopia for the East, South Africa, Malaysia for Southeast Asia, Panama for Central America.
“The World Food Program would have been a legitimate winner without the pandemic, but the pandemic and its consequences absolutely reinforce the reasons for this award.”, justified Ms. Reiss-Andersen. While recalling that war remains the main culprit of hunger, the Director General of WFP, the American David Beasley does not underestimate the role of poverty and the difficulty of overcoming a form of fatality that deplores Hélène Botreau, advocate officer within the NGO Oxfam: we must avoid “Depoliticization of hunger” which considerably slows down funding. The United Nations has pleaded since the spring to commit additional funds, pointing that only 9% of the necessary funds had been raised to respond to the current crisis.
A way of putting the humanitarian question back on the political agenda of states. Because Thomas Phiri, spokesperson for WFP in Geneva, fears that “Pandemic of hunger” does not add up to that of Covid-19. The virtuous Norwegians thus ask the States to put their hands in their pockets without delay.
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