TANZANIA – The head of the World Food Program says the Nobel Peace Prize has given the U.N. agency a spotlight and megaphone to warn world leaders that next year is going to be worse than this year, and without billions of dollars “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.”
David Beasley said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Norwegian Nobel Committee was looking at the work the agency does every day in conflicts, disasters and refugee camps, often putting staffers’ lives at risk to feed millions of hungry people -- but also to send “a message to the world that it’s getting worse out there ... (and) that our hardest work is yet to come.”
“It was so timely because we’ve been fighting to get above the choir,” Beasley said of last month's award, pointing to the news being dominated by the U.S. elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the difficulty of getting global attention focused on “the travesty that we’re facing around the world.”
“So this was really a gift from above,” Beasley said, recalling the surprise and delight of WFP's 20,000 staffers worldwide, and his own shock at being interrupted during a meeting in Niger in Africa's Sahel region with the news.
Beasley recalled his warning to the U.N. Security Council in April that as the world was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it was also “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months if immediate action wasn’t taken.
“We were able to avert it in 2020 ... because the world leaders responded with money, stimulus packages, deferral of debt,” he said.
Now, Beasley said, COVID-19 is surging again, economies are continuing to deteriorate particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and there is another wave of lockdowns and shutdowns.
But he said the money that was available in 2020 isn’t going to be available in 2021, so he has been using the Nobel to meet leaders virtually and in person, talk to parliaments, and give speeches to sensitize those with power to “this tragedy that we are facing -- crises that really are going to be extraordinary over the next, who knows, 12 to 18 months.”