STOCKHOLM / ROM, November 24th (IPS) – “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am just to myself then who am I? And if not now, when? What you hate, do not do to your fellow man, go and learn. ”
Hillel the Elder, active in the first century BC. On December 10th, representative of the World Food Program (WFP) will receive the in Norway Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo City Hall. It does so as the COVID-19 pandemic is causing lockdowns and suffering around the world, restricting agricultural production and disrupting supply chains.
The World Food Program focuses on hunger and food security. It supports 100 million people in around 90 countries. Two thirds of WFP’s activities are carried out in conflict areas where the organization provides food aid to people who would otherwise have been fatally affected by malnutrition and hunger.
The world’s poorest households in particular are suffering from acute hunger and their situation is deteriorating. In 2019, 135 million people were classified as “critically food unsafe” and the number is steadily increasing. Not only is this due to the devastation of COVID-19, the current food crisis is also exacerbated by weather extremes, economic shocks, socio-political crises, lack of employment, rising food prices, and an endemic lack of adequate nutrition and food diversity. clean water, sanitation and health care. Protracted armed conflict contributes to suffering in several areas. An estimated 79 million people are currently displaced – 44 million internally, while 20 million refugees are under the mandate of the UNHCR. A large number of these desolate people, deprived of their existence, are constantly threatened with starvation.
Given the above, one might assume that most people would think that the WFP’s Nobel Prize is deserved. Even so, the World Food Program and its mandate have often been questioned. Some have even called for the organization’s demise, referring to a general debate about the net effectiveness of aid. Among other things, it has been found that some nations are overly dependent on foreign aid and must therefore stop. Politicians, journalists and even some aid workers have suggested that food aid to starving people can worsen an already disastrous situation by prolonging conflict, creating and stimulating corruption, strengthening predatory regimes, supporting warring factions, and promoting black markets. In addition, it was pointed out that an apparent inefficiency of large, UN-supported and global organizations like WFP motivates their defusion.
During my assignments as a consultant for WFP headquarters in Rome, I have listened to people tell me about their experiences with thousands of starving people, especially malnourished, sick and dying children. While putting their own lives in danger and being surrounded by murderous armies, bandits and militias. I was also told of their discomfort at being forced to work with politicians who used starving people as farmers in their cynical power games. When asked if they believed in the WFP’s mandate and right to exist, they replied that there was no justification for not trying to help them when faced with the suffering of severely malnourished people. “It is terrible to see someone die of malnutrition. How can your conscience endure knowing that you haven’t done anything about it while realizing that you could have saved the deceased? ”
The people I spoke to knew that the organization they served had its shortcomings, but they were also anxious to change them. They told me they felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of others. As I walked through the WFP foyer, I couldn’t avoid looking at a wall of bronze plaques that paid homage to WFP workers who had been killed in the field trying to help starving people. When I last saw the wall in 2018, there were 98 names.
Like any other UN organization, the WFP is not a self-sufficient entity but depends on voluntary donations, mainly from governments. Accordingly, the WFP consists of its member states. Indeed, if you criticize the WFP, you must question your own government’s commitment to running the organization. Changing the shortcomings of the WFP does not mean cutting financial support. It would be far better if more people were informed about the impressive achievements of the organization and tried to correct suspected deficiencies by working with their own representatives within the WFP.
Why should we end an experienced, global organization that tracks human suffering around the world and tries to change it? Why allow suffering when it can be alleviated? We are all dependent on one another. The suffering of others is a warning to you and me, as Hillel noted in the quote above. If I have chosen not to help anyone, how can I seek help from others when I am in danger?
Many of us live in an absurd paradise of reckless consumption, which depletes the resources of our planet and destroys the conditions for our existence and well-being. The packaging alone of everything we consume threatens to suffocate the earth. The cost of supporting the WFP and its efforts to combat world hunger is a tiny fraction of what is being spent on luxurious, unnecessary, and even harmful luxury production – without talking about the defense industry. The award of a Nobel Peace Prize to an organization like the WFP is a recognition of the responsibility we all have for one another.
At a time when every inhabitant of planet earth is overshadowed by COVID-19, a Nobel Peace Prize from the WFP is a reminder of how precious we are to one another. When people are confronted with an illness that has not yet been controlled by drugs and efficient health care, we realize the importance of ignoring petty chauvinism, narcissism, power games and selfishness. It is high time we stepped up international cooperation and recognize that the earth is a closed biological sphere in which we must unite for our own survival to save both our planet and humanity. No nation can single-handedly fight a pandemic, and hunger and pollution cannot be changed without international organizations.
So let us be delighted with the WFP’s Peace Prize and hope that the world’s rich nations will see the urgency to support the organization and replenish its resources. Your contributions have not been sufficient to meet the identified needs of populations with unsafe diets, and the WFP’s funding gap is currently USD 4.1 billion and growing.
Source: Global Network Against the Food Crisis (2020) Global Food Crisis Report 2020: Joint Analysis for Better Decisions. Rome: WFP
Jan Lundius has a doctorate. on the history of religion at Lund University and was a development expert, researcher and consultant at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organizations.
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