The UN World Food Program (WFP), Noble Peace Prize Winner of 2020

This year’s noble peace prize went to the UN World Food Program. Having been awarded since ۱۹۰۱, this prize, annually, is awarded to the individuals who have rendered most services to mankind and helped best in establishing peace.
11 November 2020
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Mansoureh Sharifi Sadr

This year’s noble peace prize went to the UN World Food Program. Having been awarded since 1901, this prize, annually, is awarded to the individuals who have rendered most services to mankind and helped best in establishing peace. The jury consists of specialized committees on whose discretion the noble prizes are awarded to the most competent persons, real or legal, in the fields of psychology or medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economic sciences, and peace. In this report, the reasons why the noble prize was allocated to the WFP and the right to food during the corona pandemic, and its relation with peace and development are examined.


From 1901 until now, the peace prize has been awarded to 131 programs. The winners include 90 men, 17 women, and 24 organizations or institutes.

Alfred Noble made a will that 31.5 million Kronas of his property to be allocated to an annual reward for those who have carried out most services to the interests of mankind. He also stated that a 5 member committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament decide on the matter. Until 1960, the noble prizes were awarded, often, to white men from the European and American continents. In 1960 a prize was awarded to a human rights activist from South Africa, causing it to take global dimensions. Since 1980, in total, 26 prizes have gone to winners outside Europe and North America.

The founder of the noble peace prize has expressed:” The prize will go to somebody who has done the most and best effort for establishing brotherhood and promoting friendship among nations, eliminating or reducing militarism, and also restoring and promoting peace.” Over the last years, the prize has been granted by identifying various cases for efforts for peace. In the first years until before world war I, the prize was awarded to the pioneers and organizers of peace movements. During the world war, politicians who tried for international peace, stability, and justice through diplomacy and agreements were selected. Also, the institutes and individuals who were active in humanitarian services were listed as candidates for receiving the noble prize. After world war II the noble peace prizes were basically for appreciating efforts in four main areas including arms control and disarmament, peace negotiations, democracy and human rights, and efforts for making a better and more peaceful world.

In the 21st century, the noble committee included the efforts for reducing environmental change and damage done by humans as among activities related to peace for humans, and activists in this area were included as activists for peace for mankind among candidates of the peace prize.

The Noble Prize and the United Nations

Various UN institutes have so far managed to receive several noble peace prizes for their considerable services and efforts for the human society and helping spread peace. In addition to agencies and institutes affiliated to the UN, also, individuals who have been in charge of UN duties, have managed to receive the noble prize. The institutes, in addition to WFP, which have managed to receive the award include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees two times, the International Labour Organization, Unicef, UN Peacekeeping Force, IAEA, and Mohamed El Baradei jointly, IPCC together with Al Gore ( former US vice president), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Also, the noble committee granted Kofi Annan the noble prize for his efforts for reviving the UN, stressing human rights across the world, combating HIV spread in Africa, and his opposition to international terrorism. Kofi Annan won the prize jointly with the UN on the 100th anniversary of the noble prize. From the noble committee’s standpoint, he had a major role in coordinating and organizing inter-governmental relations and for his considerable efforts for making a better and more peaceful world, he was deemed worthy of the noble peace prize. Before him, Dag Hammarskjold, the second UN secretary, posthumously won the peace prize in 1961.

Additionally, the International Committee of the Red Cross has three times won the noble peace prize for its considerable humanitarian efforts in 1917, 1944, and 1963.

 The UN World Food Program, Winner of Noble Peace Prize

On Oct 9, 2020, the noble committee declared the designation of the 2020 noble peace prize to the WFP of the UN. The committee stated the reason for the award was the efforts the institute made for combating hunger, participation in improving peace conditions in the regions damaged by hostilities as well as his efforts as a propelling force for preventing the use of hunger and starvation as weapons of war.

On its reasons for awarding the prize, the committee stated: The United Nations WFP is the largest humanitarian institute which has a major role in combating hunger and promoting food security. In 2019, this institute aided about 100 million people in 88 countries suffering from hunger and starvation. The WFP’s action in the interests of mankind is one that must be supported by all world nations.

Hunger and Sustainable

In the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), with 8 great goals for the human society, that was unanimously approved by the summit of the UN general assembly in September 2000, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger was agreed as the first goal by 191 countries and 22 participating organizations in the assembly and it was determined global comprehensive efforts be made to eradicate poverty and hunger until the end of the 2015 program.

With the MDG period terminating, in the 2015 summit, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were approved by the UN general assembly. In this approach, ending hunger, the realization of food security, better nutrition, and sustainable agricultural development are introduced as the second goal of the 17 goals of (SDG). Designation of an independent goal for the poverty challenge (first goal) and another independent goal for the eradication of hunger (second goal) in this document is indicative of a serious international approach to these two human challenges.

Despite efforts mentioned above and based on international reports, the food conditions of people across the world have deteriorated so that in 2019, 135 million people suffered from food poverty, a figure more disappointing compared to recent years’. A major part of Food poverty has been due to armed conflicts.

Covid 19 and World Food Program 

The Covid 19 pandemic had a worsening impact on the hunger victims in the world. In countries like Yemen, Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso the hostilities along with the Covid 19 spread have caused an increasing number of victims of hunger and starvation.

With these circumstances, it is expected that the WFP should have an influential role in securing the basic food needs of the victims. Concerning this, the noble committee stated that:” until we find a vaccine for Covid 19, food is the best vaccine against this human catastrophe”.

It is to be noted that according to the last UNCTAD (United Nations Conference for Trade and Development) report, following the Covid 19 pandemic and necessity for social distancing, the governments had to shut down large sectors of their economies, which according to an estimate by the international labour organization more than 500 million were endangered across the world especially in the developing countries and some of them (at least 100 million jobs) have permanently disappeared. Based on this report, until the end of 2020, between 90 to 120 million people from developing countries will be suffering from extreme poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

After the corona pandemic, the world economy has faced contraction and according to the estimates, the world GDP will shrink by 4.3%, an amount of over 6 trillion dollars. In addition, the world trade will fall by 40% and the money transfer by foreign workers will fall by over 100 billion dollars. These statistics do not project a clear landscape for the realization of the eradication of hunger until the end of the 15-year program (sustainable development) in 2030. Therefore, it seems that the UN’s WFP’s efforts will be more important than in the past in the years ahead, because, as an institute for the prevention of hostilities and peace threats and as a mechanism for helping mankind, its role in the international arena will be important.

Hunger and Threats to Peace

The relation between hunger and armed conflicts is a defective cycle; war and hostilities cause food insecurity and spread of hunger, as hunger and food insecurity cause war and violence. It is obvious that in fighting hunger we can never reach the zero point as long as there is no end to war and armed conflicts. In this regard, the Norwegian noble committee emphasizes that not only does helping increase food security prevent hunger but also it can improve the landscape of peace and stability in the world. So far, the WFP has directed the joining of humanitarian measures to restore peace by acting as a pioneer in the related activities in South America, Africa, and Asia.

The WFP has been a major participant in the process of the unanimous approval of resolution 2417 in 2018. The importance of this resolution is mainly due to the reason that for the first time it expressed the relation between hunger and hostilities. The security council stressed the duties of the UN members for aiding people in need of food, and strongly condemned the use of hunger and starvation as a weapon of war. The resolution, while expressing deep concerns about the increasing armed conflicts in various parts of the world, and stressing the necessity for amplifying efforts for prevention and settlement of disputes, expresses that the impact of disputes on food security will cause human displacement for food and water. This, in addition to the social and economic impacts, can cause insecurity and other disputes. The resolution emphasizes that the use of hunger against civilians as a weapon of war can lead to war crimes, also, prevention from humanitarian access and preventing citizens from necessary items for survival is a violation of human rights and strongly condemns it, and asks the parties engaged to support the structures that provide the needs of the civilians and secures humanitarian aid. The resolution asks the secretary to present a report every 12 months to the security council on the human rights conditions especially concerning the starvation threat and food insecurity in the countries engaged in a war.


The Norwegian noble committee attracts the attention of the world to the millions of people suffering from (or exposed to the danger of) hunger. It can be said the WFP has a major role in attracting multilateral cooperation to provide food security as a weapon of peace; also it has a major role in mobilizing the UN members in fighting the approach of use of hunger as a weapon of war in hostilities. Insufficiency of efforts, in other words, not having full cooperation among the governments, including the governments engaged in hostilities and other governments, has caused the goals predicted in the (SDG) and the goals of the 2417 resolution not to be realized. In addition, widespread violations of human rights and violations of jus cogens rules for the right to life, resulting from hunger and starvation caused by the execution of the UN security council and unilateral US sanctions (namely Iraq) have not been taken to task.

  (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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