LONDON — The United Nations World Food Program on Friday was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity around the globe.
The body was rewarded for “its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Nobel Committee.
In 2019, the Rome-based organization provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. It is the U.N.’s largest specialized agency and the world’s biggest humanitarian group addressing hunger and promoting food security.
“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Program has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts,” Reiss-Andersen added.
The head of the organization, David Beasley, appeared giddy in a video posted on Twitter from Niger soon after the news was announced.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve been speechless,” said the former Republican governor from South Carolina.
Beasley was nominated by President Donald Trump for the WFP role in 2017. He said the credit for the prize lay with the “WFP family.”
“They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes … They deserve this award. Wow. Wow. Wow,” he said.
The WFP works globally but has been particularly instrumental in staving off hunger and famine in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan — countries plagued by conflict, poverty and climate change.
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The WFP said on Twitter it was “deeply humbled” to receive the prize.
“This is in recognition of the work of WFP staff who put their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance to more than 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world,” it said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “delighted” by the news, in a statement on Friday.
Adding, that the award highlighted the plight of millions “on the precipice of famine,” made worse by threats from the coronavirus and climate change.
“There is also a hunger in our world for international cooperation,” he added, welcoming the recognition of humanitarian bodies that operate “above the realm of politics.”
The United Nations, which marks its 75th anniversary in 2020, is no stranger to the Peace Prize.
The global body last won the award in 2001 along with then Secretary-General Kofi Annan “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” U.N. Peacekeeping Forces won in 1998 and the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) won in 1981 and children’s fund (UNICEF) in 1965.
Organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons have also won the award in the past.
Last year, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali claimed the prize for his work to promote reconciliation, solidarity and social justice in the east African country and for signing a major peace deal with neighbor Eritrea after decades of fighting.
Previous peace prize winners include educational activist Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban, South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. for his non-violent campaign against racism.
Four former U.S. Presidents have also claimed the prize.
Former President Barack Obama in 2009 for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy, Jimmy Carter in 2002 for finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts after he left office. While Theodore Roosevelt scooped the award in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 after World War I.
Along with enormous prestige and immediate global attention, the prize comes with a 10-milion krona ($1.1 million) cash award and a gold medal to be handed out at a scaled-down ceremony in Oslo, on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel’s death.
The prize was announced virtually from Oslo, Norway, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The final Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences will be announced on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.