Being selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize is an honor and a humbling recognition of the critical work the World Food Program (WFP) is doing. But it is also impossible to celebrate.
My colleagues and I are well aware that we are receiving this award only because hundreds of millions of people are at the brink of starvation, and we are striving to keep them alive. This will not change until we commit to finding political solutions to conflicts so people can rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
While our world has been focused on the health aspects of COVID-19, hunger is the silent killer ravaging communities in the farthest corners of the globe. We don’t see these victims on the nightly news. We don’t keep a real-time tally of the lives lost. But this doesn’t make these mothers and fathers and children any less important, and it doesn’t minimize the grief of their families.
Despite our resolve to achieve zero hunger by 2030, the sad truth is that hunger has been rising over the past several years, and there is no end in sight. COVID-19 has only exacerbated an already bad situation. This Nobel Prize is a call to action at a critical time. COVID-19 is threatening to create a hunger crisis of biblical proportions—worse than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes—unless we do something about it. This is not hyperbole; this is the blunt reality.
The impact of the coronavirus on world hunger is twofold. First, the virus is disrupting economies and supply chains, preventing access to food and limiting people’s ability to work. It is increasing conflict and violence, forcing many to abandon their land, homes, and jobs.
Second, COVID-19 is demanding government resources that might otherwise have gone toward fighting long-term global challenges related to nutrition, health, and education. Without immediate intervention, the number of chronically hungry people will continue to rise. COVID-19 is poised to set back the progress we have made against hunger by 15 years, according to WFP calculations.
The roughly $1 million that comes with the Nobel Prize will feed about 1.6 million people for a day. That’s far from enough. Despite the generosity of our current and past donors, we are well short of the resources we need to feed the growing number of people who need us.
It is time for the private sector to join the fight. We need to raise $5.1 billion more now to feed the people affected by the ripple effects of the coronavirus crisis for the next six months. I’m asking the wealthiest individuals and corporations among us to answer the moral call to promote global peace and prosperity by putting their resources into the fight against hunger.
This is not someone else’s responsibility just because the worst of it is occurring on someone else’s soil. It is our collective responsibility.
This is a pivotal moment in history, and it will either be one of our worst, or it will be one of our greatest. Despite the racial, political, religious, economic, and cultural divisions facing the U.S., we have an opportunity to come together in pursuit of an extraordinary goal. Food has long been one of the greatest peacebuilders in history. Maybe the peace and reconciliation we have been seeking starts with this.
In December, I will accept this award in recognition of the staff—at the World Food Program and related NGOs—who put their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance to hundreds of millions of hungry children, women, and men across the world. This is not an easy task. They serve in the most dangerous and desperate regions of the world and count on the integrity of their mission to keep them safe. Some of them have not made it back.
We’re humbled by this incredible recognition, but we are cognizant of the enormous challenges that lie ahead. The job is far from over—but this, right now, can also be our finest hour.
David Beasley is the executive director of the World Food Program.
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