"Efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict" have earned the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for the World Food Programme, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on Friday, also underscoring the need for international cooperation.
The Rome-based organization was chosen because of its efforts to provide food assistance to millions in need, but also with an eye on the current coronavirus pandemic, which the committee noted is increasing poverty and the risk of hunger.
"The link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious circle: War and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence," it said. "We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict."
The five-strong committee noted how 135 million people suffered from acute hunger last year, "the highest number in many years."
The award also aimed to serve as "a call to the international community not to underfund" the WFP, said Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
"This is an obligation - in our minds - of all states of the world to ensure that people are not starving," she added, in remarks at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.
David Beasley, head of the WFP, said in a statement that the award was "a humbling, moving recognition of the work of WFP staff" who assist close to 100 million people across the world.
In a brief video clip posted on WFP's social media account, he said: "[It was] the first time in my life I have been speechless ... Wow, wow, wow, wow, I can't believe it."
In remarks to the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, Beasley said: "[The award] will inspire us to even try to do more.
"[At the WFP], we don't go to bed at night thinking about the people we've saved, we go to bed thinking about the people we couldn't get to because of lack of money or access.
"I hope, I really do, that this award, this prize, will awaken many in the world to realize that there are still people going to bed every night hungry and starving to death."
Beasley was speaking from Niger, noting that the Sahel region was "a very, very fragile area right now" and also voiced concern over Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which were among dozens of countries "at severe risk because of Covid and the economic deterioration."
The Nobel Committee head also underscored how the coronavirus pandemic had shown the need for food aid, including investments in farming and assisting communities that are isolated, noting as well "that multilateral cooperation is absolutely necessary to tackle global challenges."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the award highlights the importance of global solidarity, paying tribute to WFP staff.
"There is also a hunger in our world for international cooperation," he added in a statement, pointing out that solidarity is needed to address the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and other threats that will create more hunger.
"In a world of plenty, it is unconscionable that hundreds of millions go to bed each night hungry," Guterres said, warning that the pandemic has brought millions of additional people to the brink of famine.
The award "makes a very sharp point: Which is that at a time when the cooperation is declining among the great powers, the world faces a series of problems, including violent conflict and hunger, where it needs cooperation. The World Food Programme is an institution that stands for that," said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
318 candidates considered
Henrik Urdal, who heads the Peace Research Institute in Oslo that is not affiliated with the Nobel prize, said the award is "an acknowledgement of the relationship between conflict and hunger, and it's a prize for the work to protect refugees."
Lawmakers, academics, former peace laureates, as well as current and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are among those who have the right to propose candidates.
The committee this year considered 318 proposals, comprising 211 individuals and 107 organizations.
The committee keeps a 50-year seal on the names, and its deliberations.
Last year, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded for his efforts to promote regional peace, including with Eritrea.
The Nobel awards in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature were already announced this week. They were created by Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel (1833-96). The economics prize announcement - not mentioned in Nobel's will - is due on Monday.
Organizers said this year's award ceremonies - traditionally presented on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death - have been scaled down due to the pandemic.