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The Nobel Peace Prize awarded for addressing hunger: an important message in the pandemic. An editorial by Andrea Riccardi in Corriere della Sera. October 10, 2020

October 10 2020

Andrea RiccardiCovid-19
Humanitarian emergencies

Our fight against food waste can no longer be postponed, we need to sustain agricultural biodiversity rather than poisoning the earth.

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Surprisingly, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN World Food Programme for its commitment to combat hunger.

The Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme is very significant in time of pandemic and hunger upsurge. Chronic malnutrition has inexorably been on the rise again since 2014. Everyday millions of women and men face acute hunger, 135 million in 2019, the highest number in recent years.  Insecurity, terrorism and war are critical drivers of the increase: Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Congo, Burkina Faso have very high hunger levels as many others!

The 2020 UN Report on food crises estimates there were 690 million hungry people in 2019, 10 million more than the previous year. In addition, many others have no access to a nutritious diet because of rising food prices. Two billion people face moderate or severe food insecurity worldwide and it has been foreseen that the Covid-19 pandemic will push other 130 million people "into the grip of chronic malnutrition". Even in Italy, a country not affected by hunger, an unsuspected need for food has been growing among different population groups. The Rome-based WFP agency provides food assistance to almost 87 million people in 83 countries during wars and emergencies; besides tackling emergency, it provides then assistance to restore livelihood. It operates on the ground with 90% of its staff in close contact with local population. It distributes 15 billion food rations, partly received as a donation and partly - about three billion - purchased in crisis’ neighbouring countries. As I have been following the work of Sant'Egidio for treating AIDS in ten African countries, I have been able to experience that WFP food aid effectively supports the treatment in countries such as Mozambique, Kenya, Guinea Conakry, Tanzania and Central Africa, where the sick are often malnourished. Food aid is crucial particularly for undernourished children who attend nutritional centres. Africa is the most affected continent with its 19% undernourished population.

 

The Nobel Peace Prize to the WFP acknowledges its considerable effort, indeed it highlights an issue not to be postponed. We cannot trust - writes Pope Francis in Laudato Sì - "that the problems of global hunger and misery will be resolved simply by market growth". It is necessary to empower the WFP and all those that combat food waste and implement initiatives to prevent entire human groups plunging into hunger and misery. We need to sustain agricultural biodiversity rather than poisoning the earth.

It is crucial to support smallholder farmers, who grow nutritious food, promoting their access to markets and reducing distribution costs. Food waste is highly contradictory in a hungry world. Food security must be achieved and nutrition must be improved. In the past thirty years 300 million people could be saved from the nightmare of hunger, although the world's population increased by almost two billion. Action on the ground has yielded positive results. However, men and women will not be master of their own lives, creators of their future, responsible citizens unless hunger is defeated