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2020 Nobel Peace Prize Awarded To World Food Programme


This year's Nobel Peace Prize goes to the United Nations World Food Programme. The Norwegian Nobel Committee honored the agency that fights hunger and that has tried to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war. NPR's Rob Schmitz is with us. And, Rob, for those who don't know, what's the World Food Program do?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, the World Food Programme is the U.N.'s largest agency and the world's largest organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. Last year, it provided assistance to more than 97 million people in 88 countries. I think what stands out about this program is it's one of the few U.N. agencies that has the ability to enter countries that are extremely difficult to enter, places like Syria, North Korea, Yemen. And its goal is literally to save the lives of those who are starving due to poor governance, armed conflict, you name it.

INSKEEP: OK. So I see the connection to war and peace. But why give them this award during a pandemic?

SCHMITZ: Well, Nobel Peace Prize Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen made an interesting connection between the coronavirus pandemic and the World Food Programme's mission. Here's what she said.


BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: 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.

SCHMITZ: So Steve, she's hinting here that financial support for this agency could be in question due to the pandemic's impact on the economies of the developed world. And that's a big problem, you know? This past summer, you, Steve Inskeep, interviewed the head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley. And he said the pandemic is having a big impact on world hunger. Here's what he said.


DAVID BEASLEY: Before COVID, I had been giving speeches that 2020 was going to be the worst humanitarian crisis year since World War II. Because of COVID, we are now looking at an additional 130 million people that will be knocking on the door of starvation.

SCHMITZ: And, Steve, Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen mentioned the fact that this year, the pandemic has exposed a lack of global cooperation, this idea that the world needs to unite to combat the biggest threats to humanity. Here's what she said.


REISS-ANDERSEN: Multilateral cooperation is absolutely necessary to combat global challenges. And multilateralism seems to have a lack of respect these days.

SCHMITZ: And, Steve, you can hear how she stumbles over her words here. She's obviously...


SCHMITZ: ...Trying to put this in the most diplomatic way possible. But it's clear, with the rise of populist leaders throughout the world, the Nobel Peace Prize committee deemed it necessary to send a message that, in the end, joining together is sorely needed in a world facing both the enormous threat of a global pandemic, but also global hunger.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.