The Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP). In its announcement, the Norwegian Nobel committee emphasised that “providing assistance to increase food security not only prevents hunger, but can also help to improve prospects for stability and peace”.
The WPF indeed appears to be a worthy winner of this prestigious award. It is the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and currently assists over 100 million people in 88 countries.
What is perhaps not always widely known is that the WFP is also the frontline United Nations agency responding to emergencies caused by conflict, climate shocks, pandemics and other disasters. And it is currently involved in addressing ongoing emergencies in 20 countries, the majority of these emergencies have been fuelled by conflict.
The agency has also in recent months warned the international community that acute hunger in the 88 countries in which it operates could reach 270 million people by the end of the year—an 82 percent increase on 2019.
For many years, world hunger was on the decline. More food was being produced around the world and access was gradually improving. But since 2014, the number of undernourished people or people facing chronic food deprivation, has been on the rise.
Latest estimates from the Food and Agricultural Organisation suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population (or slightly less than 750 million people) was exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019. Indeed, in all regions of the world except Northern America and Europe, the prevalence of severe food insecurity has increased from 2014 to 2019.
But even this is only a part of the story because an additional 16 percent of the world population, or more than 1.25 billion people, experience food insecurity at moderate levels. And this group, which is moderately food insecure, does not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food, even if they are not necessarily suffering from hunger.
Some countries, such as Yemen, are on the edge of famine and Covid-19 is making hunger even more acute in large parts of the world. Thus, the scale of the problem of world hunger is enormous, which makes this year’s Nobel Peace Prize even more relevant and timely.
According to several studies, conflict is an important driver of severe food crises and famines, and under-nutrition is particularly a major problem in situations of prolonged conflicts and in countries and regions with weak institutional capacity. Syria, Yemen and South Sudan are illustrative examples of the close linkages between social and political unrest and hunger.
People living in areas prone to, or affected by, conflict tend to suffer from many types of deprivation. Food insecurity is one of them.