The World Food Program

Conflict leads to starvation, and someone thinks starvation can lead to conflict. A vicious spiral that Nobel Laureate Verda’s Food Program (WFP) wants to break. But can food distribution contribute to peace?

  • Why did the World Food Program win?
  • What is food security?
  • What is the relationship between food and conflict?
  • Can food distribution contribute to peace?

In its founding award, the Nobel Committee highlighted the WFP’s “efforts in the fight against hunger, for its contribution to creating conditions for peace in conflict-prone areas, and for being a driving force in the fight against the use of hunger as a weapon in war and conflict.”

The Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and is one of the UN organizations that has not received the Peace Prize before, even though he has been nominated several times before.

The award was quickly recognized as safe and solid, and focused on international cooperation and funding of international organizations.

The price is also seen as a time trial. After a declining trend in the number of people who are malnourished in the world, the number began to rise again after 2014. People affected by severe food insecurity, on the verge of starvation, in 2019 were as many as 750 million people, or almost one in ten in the world.

2: What is food security?

Food security is a broad concept, and there are several different perceptions of what it contains. Some understand food security such as changes in the price of food, while others focus on the absence of adequate access to food.

Although it may vary how food safety is understood, all definitions have a focus on the individual. It is the nutritional status of the individual and the threat to the individual that is in focus.

And although there are several different ways to understand food security, according to itypeusa, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a definition that is widely used and recognized. According to the FAO, food insecurity occurs when people “lack safe access to sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development, and an active, healthy life”.

Much of the reason for increased food security in recent years is the increasing number of armed conflicts, in addition to climate-related shocks in food production in many countries. Food security is also vulnerable to economic downturns where negative economic growth makes it more difficult for the poor to access food.

The situation regarding food security and malnutrition is expected to worsen further due to the health and socio-economic consequences of covid-19.

3: The relationship between food security and conflict

The leader of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, emphasized that hunger and armed conflict is a “vicious circle”, and that it is not possible to achieve the UN’s sustainability goal of zero hunger by 2030 unless we put an end to armed conflicts. But what exactly is the relationship between hunger and conflict?

The first part of this relationship is indisputable, we know that conflicts lead to food insecurity and starvation. Armed conflicts are the biggest driver of food security in the world. Conflicts can increase the risk of starvation in direct ways, such as by destroying agricultural land, people having to flee cultivated land, destroyed food stocks and cultivating food, or indirectly by destroying food systems and markets where people can access food, or reduced access to goods that are necessary for cooking, such as water and gas.

Almost all major food crises today are in countries with significant violence and conflicts, and Verda’s food program spends over 80 percent of its operational budget on humanitarian operations in conflict-affected areas. The three biggest food crises are all in countries affected by protracted conflict: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and Afghanistan.

5: Can food distribution contribute to peace?

If food security can help increase the risk of conflict, better food security can reduce tensions and contribute to stability. But food distribution can actually also be a cause of conflict, and can negatively affect local markets and food production. It is therefore important that the distribution is made in a way that is right according to local conditions.

Food aid from the World Food Program and other international humanitarian organizations can be vital. But assistance in the form of food is not always effective, and the food does not always reach the intended. Research shows that those who are trapped in extreme conflict situations often receive less help than those who are less exposed to violence. Thus, those who need help the most do not always get it.

Organizations such as Verda’s food program have also been criticized for allowing food aid to get under way in local food markets and food production. When food comes in from outside, local farmers can lose important income due to free or cheap food in the form of aid produced elsewhere.

This is why Verda’s food program has to a greater extent started with what is called food assistance, which involves giving money directly to the recipient, instead of food. Then the recipient can decide for himself what he wants to spend the money on, and what food to buy. It is also likely that this will stabilize local production capacity without disturbing local markets.

But the biggest danger that food aid will have negative consequences is through theft. Some reports indicate that up to 80 percent of food aid may have been taken on the way to the intended area. This is an area that is often controlled by armed groups, and is only partially controlled by the state.

Rebel groups can, for example, set up roadblocks and demand payment from aid organizations in order for them to be allowed to pass. This happened, for example, in Somalia in the 1990s. In addition, it can be difficult to distinguish who is a member of a militia group, and who is a civilian, as such groups rarely wear uniforms. Often, members of rebel groups are also malnourished in particularly serious conflicts.

Research also shows that the state in the recipient country can provide food to certain groups in the population, preferably the groups that support the government. This can help to increase dissatisfaction and thus also the risk of conflict. All of these factors can therefore contribute to prolonging or exacerbating ongoing conflicts.

6: Important with a focus on food security

Distributing aid in the form of food is an important short-term tool to prevent people in conflict areas from being affected by starvation. This is important to avoid a direct negative effect, but short-term assistance will not replace the underlying causes of food insecurity. Famine is not something that occurs in a vacuum, but is, as mentioned, a consequence of misgovernment and political instability. In order for armed conflicts, economic and political marginalization and food security to end, we are completely dependent on strengthening the political system and state institutions.

The world’s food program does a fantastic job, and it is important to focus on one of the biggest challenges in the world, namely that more and more people are affected by food security. At the same time, it is important that international aid organizations are aware of the local context in which they operate, and that they reach the groups that are hardest hit, without adversely affecting the conflict. Targeted measures over time will improve food security and poverty and contribute to stability and economic growth, something that also reduces the risk of conflict.

Facts about the Nobel Peace Prize:

  • The Nobel Peace Prize is an international prize that can be awarded annually by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
  • The prize is one of five prizes, called the Nobel Prizes, which the Swede Alfred Nobel established in his will on 27 November 1895.
  • While the other Nobel Prizes are awarded by professional committees based in Sweden, the Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee appointed by the Storting.
  • According to the Nobel will, “the prize for advocates of peace” should go to the “one who has worked most or best for the brotherhood of brotherhood and the abolition or reduction of standing armies, as well as the formation and dissemination of peace congresses.”
  • The prize winner will receive a medal, a personal diploma and ten million Swedish kroner.
  • The award will be presented during a ceremony in Oslo City Hall on December 10, which is Alfred Nobel’s death anniversary.

The World Food Program