Explained: How Nobel Peace Prize 2020 winner WFP has combated hunger around the world

What is the WFP? What is the scale of its work? Why does the world need a food programme? What is WFP’s role in India? What has the Nobel Committee said while declaring the award?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday announced the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the UN agency World Food Programme (WFP), “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”.

The WFP is the 28th organisation awarded the Nobel Peace Prize since its inception in 1901.

What is the WFP?

It was established in 1961. Then US President Dwight Eisenhower had suggested the idea of providing food aid through the UN system. Months after it was set up, the WFP faced a humanitarian crisis when more than 12,000 people died in an earthquake in Boein Zahra in northern Iran. The WFP sent tonnes of wheat, sugar and tea. Thereafter, it played an important role in providing food aid in Thailand and Algeria.

Details on WFP websites show that It launched its first development programme in 1963 for Nubians in Sudan. In the same year, the WFP’s first school meals project – in Togo – was approved. Two years later, WFP became a full-fledged UN programme.

The WFP is headquartered in Rome, Italy. It is governed by an Executive Board, which consists of 36 member states. It is headed by an Executive Director, who is appointed jointly by the UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Executive Director is appointed for fixed five-year terms.

What is the scale of its work?

Today, the WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency combating hunger.

In 2019, it assisted 97 million people – the largest number since 2012 – in 88 countries, says the WFP. The same year, it delivered about 4.4 million tonnes of food, purchased $1.7 billion worth of food from 91 countries, and $762 million worth of goods and services from 156 countries. On any given day, WFP has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need, it says.

“Every year, we distribute more than 15 billion rations at an estimated average cost per ration of US$ 0.61. These numbers lie at the roots of WFP’s unparalleled reputation as an emergency responder, one that gets the job done quickly at scale in the most difficult environments,” it says.

WFP India said in a statement: “From the rebuilding of post-war South Korea in the late 1960s, through the emergency response after genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, the long-running conflict in South Sudan and the more recent wars in Yemen and Syria, WFP has been a constant presence for the poor and the destitute, refugees and the dispossessed.”

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Why does the world need a food programme?

Eradicating hunger is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. The WFP is the UN’s primary agency that works towards this goal. According to the WFP, there are 690 million hungry people around the world and around 60% of them live in countries affected by conflict. The number of hungry people is expected to increase further due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WFP estimates suggest that by 2030, nearly half of the global poor will be living in fragile and conflict-affected situations. It says people living in countries with long-running crises are more than twice as likely to be undernourished than people elsewhere (2.5 times as much).

What is WFP’s role in India?

The WFP has been working in India since 1963, two years after its establishment. Apart from focusing on reforms in the Targeted Public Distribution System, it provides policy inputs, advocacy and technical assistance for improving access to food.

The WFP has proposed some unique initiatives like Automatic Grain Dispensing Machine (Annapurti) and Mobile Storage Units for the effective implementation of TPDS. Annapurti allows beneficiaries to withdraw their foodgrain quota accurately and at a time of their choice. It can dispense two commodities at a speed of 25 kg per 1.3 minutes. It has a storage capacity of 200 kg to 500 kg.

According to WFP India, it has completed a pilot on rice fortification used in the government’s Mid-day Meals scheme in Varanasi. Since December 2018, 4,145 tonnes of fortified rice has been produced and fed to 300,000 schoolchildren, it says.

Even during the pandemic, WFP India has worked with the central and state governments. For instance, it signed an MoU with the Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission. Under the agreement, WFP will provide technical assistance for setting up supplementary nutrition production units in 18 districts for supply of quality food to about 33 lakh beneficiaries of the Anganwadi scheme (Integrated Child Development Services). It has also prepared a guidance note for the re-opening of schools during the pandemic.

What has the Nobel Committee said while declaring the award?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee highlighted the work done by the WFP to eradicate hunger and underlined its role in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world. In countries such as Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burkina Faso, 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,” the Committee said.

“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts. As the organisation itself has stated, ‘Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos’,” it said.

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