Dire warning from Nobel Peace Prize winner: 270 million on the brink of starvation

World Food Programme forced into agonising decisions on which famished children live and die

What the World Food Programme does

What the World Food Programme does
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Hundreds of millions of people are facing starvation worldwide, the head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) said after the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Thursday.

David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said officials were already having to decide “which children die and which do not”.

The WFP was named as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October. Instead of the usual ceremony at the Oslo City Hall before dignitaries including Norway's King Harald, the award was presented in Rome at the WFP headquarters because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Beasley said 200 million people – equivalent to the combined populations of Britain, Germany, France and Italy – were on the brink of famine.

“Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse – 270 million people are marching towards starvation," he said.

"Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of Covid. And if that's not bad enough, out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100 per cent for their survival.”

The WFP provides food assistance to 100 million people in 88 countries. It was recognised by the Nobel committee “for its efforts to combat global hunger, its efforts in bringing peace in conflict areas and acting as a driving force to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon”.

World Food Programme chief David Beasley warns millions are on the brink of famine at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Rome. 
World Food Programme chief David Beasley warns millions are on the brink of famine at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Rome. 

But Mr Beasley said the WFP was underfunded and needed an additional $5 billion to meet the world’s food needs.

“What tears me up inside is this: this coming year millions and millions of my equals, your neighbours, my neighbours, are on the brink of starvation,” he said. “When we don’t have the money, we have to decide which children do not eat, which children die and which do not. How would you like that job?”

According to its website, the WFP received about $6.7bn in funding from donor nations in 2020.

WFP officials are expected to travel to Oslo at a later stage to deliver the traditional Nobel lecture. The remaining Nobel awards – for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics, which are traditionally handed out in Stockholm – have been moved online.

The ceremonies are held every year on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.