The World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to combat a surge in global hunger amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has swept around the world with devastating impact.
The Nobel committee said that work by the organization, a United Nations agency, to address hunger had laid the foundations for peace in nations ravaged by war.
“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Program has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said as she announced the prize in Oslo. “The combination of violent conflict and the pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation,” she added.
In many nations, particularly those at war, the combination of conflict and the pandemic has sharply increased the number of people on the brink of starvation. As the global fallout from the pandemic began this spring, the World Food Program estimated that the number of people experiencing life-threatening levels of food insecurity could more than double this year, to 265 million.
The World Food Program — the largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security internationally — last year provided assistance to nearly one million people in 88 countries.
The Nobel committee’s recognition of a United Nations agency comes as the United States under President Trump has very publicly pulled back support for the global organization.
Since he took office in 2017, the United States has withdrawn from several United Nations bodies and slashed funding for others, including those involved in humanitarian relief. Mr. Trump has contended that the United States was shouldering an outsized financial responsibility for the global body compared with other countries.
In the spring, he halted funded to the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency that has been coordinating the global response to the pandemic.
David Beasley, the World Food Program’s executive director, said in a statement posted to Twitter that his organization was “deeply humbled” to receive the award.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve been speechless,” he said, adding that the honor was a result of his staff’s hard work. “They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world — whether its war, conflict, climate extremes, it doesn’t matter. They’re out there and they deserve this award.”
In a formal statement issued by the organization, Mr. Beasley said the award had “turned the global spotlight on them and on the devastating consequences of conflict,” adding that the organization works closely with local governments and other partners to combat hunger.
The Nobel committee also recognized that the award comes at a crucial time for the organization as the pandemic heightens food insecurity and damages economies the world over. It said funding would be key to ensure the organization’s future work.
“The world is in danger of experiencing a hunger crisis of inconceivable proportions if the World Food Program and other food assistance organizations do not receive the financial support they have requested,” the committee said.
The World Food Program, established in 1961 after a proposal by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, has been a major behind-the-scenes player helping people affected by some of the world’s most devastating humanitarian disasters, including famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
While the organization still responds to natural disasters, helping people in areas of armed conflict occupies the bulk of its relief efforts, and those crises have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Awarding the peace prize to a United Nations agency was a less controversial choice than some others in recent years.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia was awarded the 2019 prize for his work restarting peace talks with neighboring Eritrea, which eventually led to a gradual normalizing of relations and the end of years of war between the two countries. He was also recognized for his work ushering in a new era of diplomatic and trade relations.
By the end of the year, however, Mr. Abiy faced accusations of a heavy-handed crackdown on political protests in his country and skipped a news conference after his acceptance speech amid the controversy.
Who are this year’s other Nobel Prize winners?
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, announced on Monday in Sweden, was given to three scientists for their work discovering the hepatitis C virus. Read more about the winners, Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice.
The Nobel Prize in Physics, announced on Tuesday in Sweden, was awarded half to Roger Penrose for showing how black holes could form and half to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for discovering a supermassive object at the Milky Way’s center. Read more about the winners.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced on Wednesday in Sweden. Read more about the winners, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, who developed the Crispr tool, which can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with high precision.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was announced on Thursday in Sweden. Read about the winner, Louise Glück, one of America’s most celebrated poets.
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced on Monday in Sweden. Read about last year’s winners, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer.