It was a pleasant surprise that a United Nations organisation won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, notably the World Food Programme (WFP). Some will say that the UN should not be given such prizes, because that is just honouring them for doing their work, yes, doing it very well. Others would argue that any individual, group, organisation, or company is eligible. Anyway, over the years, many UN organisations have been awarded Nobel Prizes. The Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA), in 2005, when Mohamed ElBaradei was head, and in 2001, the United Nations received the prize under Kofi Annan’s excellent leadership. Earlier, ILO, UNICEF, and UNHCR have received the Prize. In 1922, Fridtjof Nansen received the prize; he is considered the founder of the refugee agency, first under the League of Nations and then the United Nations. Other bilateral organisations are also on the list of laureates, including the European Union, in 2012, and more than once, the Red Cross & Red Crescent (ICRC). Special mention should be made of the legendary Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary-General from 1954-1961, who received the Prize in 1961, after having been assassinated while on duty in Africa that autumn.

There are several justifications for WFP receiving the prize this year; it provides basic food assistance to people in wars, conflicts and other emergencies and disasters, suffering immediate or lasting hunger and food shortages. WFP cooperates with other UN organisations, such as UNHCR, UNICEF, civil society organisations, governments, and various multilateral organisations. In conflicts, civilians and refugees are often used by the conflicting parties, and it becomes a task of WFP to negotiate access to deliver food, medicine and other items to starving people.

Although WFP is mainly a humanitarian aid organisation, the largest UN agency in that field, part of its mandate is also to work for long-term food security, improved food production and better nutrition, being components of lasting peace. How best to assist countries requires research, surveys and other studies, supported directly by WFP or in cooperation with other food and agriculture agencies, such as FAO and IFAD. It is important to understand the broader social, political and economic issues that influence the fields of WFP’s mandate, among them access to livelihood, and fair and safe work conditions and pay. The short and long-term consequences of the corona pandemic form an important part of WFP’s work.

Globally, there are today more than 800 million people who are starving or directly affected by food shortages, and the number keeps growing, partly caused by the corona pandemic. In Pakistan, surveys indicate that over forty percent of children under five are stunted; about twenty percent of the overall population is malnourished. According to WFP, about thirty-seven percent face food insecurity. As always, girls and women are affected hardest. WFP has shown in its studies that there is a correlation between women’s education level and the nutrition and health situation of a family, and education always plays a positive role. WFP assists the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to improve all these issues.

In 2019, about 100 million people received some form of assistance from WFP, in 88 countries, and two-thirds of the recipients were in conflict zones. Its budget was in 2018 USD 7.2 billion. The USA was the largest donor with USD 2.5 billion and the EU with USD 1.1 billion. The USA plays a dominating role in WFP, contributing in the range of 35 to 40 percent of the total budget, which is a regular budget and one that depends on the emergencies that occur and the agency’s ability to attract funds; there are always more needs than seeds. The total number of staff in WFP is about 17,000, most of them involved in some forms of logistics and operational tasks.

It is interesting to know that the current chief of WFP, David Beasley, is a former American Governor. He is a Republican and was nominated by President Donald Trump for the WFP post in 2019. We know that Trump is generally critical to the performance of the UN and many of its agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), from which the USA has said it will pull out in spite of it being the midst of the Corona pandemic.

WFP has always been close to the USA (together with, for example, the World Bank and UNICEF. Sometimes, WFP comes in handy for the USA to get rid of surplus farmer produce in the Midwest and elsewhere. On that note, I also recall that Norway, the country which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, in the late 1970s gave commodity assistance to Pakistan in the form of Urea fertilisers at a time when Norway had a large surplus. There is perhaps nothing wrong with that as long as it meets recipients’ needs. However, it shows some of the political aspects, which are part of decisions made by donors as well as recipients—little is ever entirely neutral. The UN is severely underfunded, indeed the refugee agency UNHCR but also WFP, and bilateral aid is diminishing at a time when the needs are growing and the number of people in absolute poverty is increasing, again accelerated due to the Corona pandemic, the unfair and unsustainable North-South relations, and other reasons.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize recognises the importance of the UN, other multilateral organisations, and the global character of most international problems and their solutions. That is, inter alia, becoming more visible this year with the corona pandemic. The Chair of the Nobel Peace Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, drew attention to this in her speech announcing the winner of this year’s prize on October 9, 2020.

Many countries are currently more inward looking than in a long time, and aid, trade and other cooperation face stagnation. However, there is also the opposite trend, indicated by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize and in other ways, which underline the need for increased international cooperation, not less. I hope this will be one outcome of this year’s prize. I believe it is a slightly disguised purpose of the prize.

I have in several recent articles emphasised that there is a need for more and new forms of international cooperation, including increased aid from rich to poor countries. Thus, I am advocating a rather large international development tax on rich country governments and multinationals, which I see as the only way to reduce the migration flow from the south to the north, avoid conflicts and curb the number of refugees, and indeed contribute to prosperity in developing countries in Africa and Asia. If this year’s Nobel Peace Prize can contribute to opening the eyes of more decision-makers in the world, it will not only have honoured one UN organisation, but it will have contributed to peace in a broader and more lasting sense.

Again, congratulations to WFP and the whole UN, even USA, on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I would also congratulate the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Norway for it is not only the winner who shines when a worthy prize is won, but also those who award it shine.