The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the United Nations World Food Program for its efforts to combat hunger, foster conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war. This choice starkly underscores growing concern about increasing global food insecurity and the clear connections between hunger and conflict.
Today, more than 820 million people – about 1 in 9 worldwide – do not have enough to eat. They suffer from food insecurity, or not having consistent access to the right foods to keep their bodies and brains healthy.
Humans need a varied diet that includes a range of critical nutrients. Food insecurity is especially important to young children and unborn babies because improper nutrition can permanently stunt brain development and growth.
Hunger has many causes. It can be a weapon of war; the result of a global pandemic like COVID-19 that disrupts production; or the result of climate change, as extreme weather events and shifting climates increase crop failures around the globe.
Meeting a global need
The World Food Program was created in the early 1960s at the behest of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. “We must never forget that there are hundreds of millions of people, particularly in the less developed parts of the world, suffering from hunger and malnutrition, even though a number of countries, my own included, are producing food in surplus,” Eisenhower said in a 1960 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. “This paradox should not be allowed to continue.”
While the U.S. was already providing direct food aid to needy countries, Eisenhower urged other nations to join in creating a system to provide food to member states through the United Nations. The WFP is now one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies. In 2019 it assisted 97 million people in 88 countries.
The WFP both provides direct assistance and works to strengthen individual countries’ capacity to meet their people’s basic needs. With its own fleet of trucks, ships and planes, the agency carries out emergency response missions and delivers food and assistance directly to victims of war, civil conflict, droughts, floods, crop failures and other natural disasters.
When emergencies subside, WFP experts develop programs for relief and rehabilitation and provide developmental aid. Over 90% of its 17,000 staff members are based in countries where the agency provides assistance.
Links between hunger and conflict
The Nobel award recognizes a key connection between hunger and global conflict. As the U.N. Security Council emphasized in a 2018 resolution, humankind can never eliminate hunger without first establishing peace. Conflict causes rampant food insecurity: It disrupts infrastructure and social stability, making it hard for supplies to get to people who need them. Too often, warring parties may deliberately use starvation as a strategy.
Food insecurity also perpetuates conflict, as it drives