A well deserved Nobel prize for peace has been announced and the world hardly took notice. This may be due to the fact that it did not go to Donald Trump, who had been nominated by a right-wing Norwegian deputy. It went to the World Food Program, an organization that since 1961 has been striving to prevent a famine of world proportions. It is significant that it is headed by an American, David Beasley, a Republican who served as governor of South Carolina until 1999. Under his leadership, the World Food Program (WFP) has been spreading the message that food security and stability are the pillars of peace in many corners of the planet during our troubled times. In fact, the World Food Program is the world’s biggest humanitarian organization, assisting 100 million people in 88 countries. At a time when the U.S. president has cut money and membership to the World Health Organization and pilloried the United Nations and its stand on human rights and crisis interventions in the world, it may come as a surprise to many that the United States is the largest donor to the World Food Program, working with multilateral organizations and many other countries in alleviating extreme poverty.
According to the Global Report on Food Crises, 74 million people face acute hunger in 21 countries affected by conflict and insecurity; nearly 80% are children.
The areas where the WFP is deeply engaged comprise Yemen, South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria and the Central Sahel in West Africa. The tragedy of Yemen is painfully telling as the escalation of the conflict by Saudi Arabia has brought that population to the brink of catastrophe. The program does a lot more that provide food. In Kyrgyzstan, it is engaging with local communities to rehabilitate irrigation canals and to increase agricultural productivity. In Latin America, it is recruiting former combatants in Colombia to work in farming and other income-generating projects. Similar projects are beginning to pay off in the Congo and the Philippines.
With personal pride (owing to the fact that for a while I worked for IFAD, another U.N. agency) I wish to point out that the WFP is based in Rome (in Parco dei Medici, no less). The program has its largest operational center in Italy, near Brindisi, in the region of Apulia. This is the same area that served as a gigantic U.S. Air Force base in WWII. Its choice in the heel of the Italian boot allows the WFP to ship huge amounts of food and other humanitarian supplies to a large number of countries in Africa and the Middle East. Just in 2019, the Brindisi base shipped by air 428 tons of humanitarian assistance destined to far-flung localities around the planet. In total, the WFP conducted 75 operations in 34 countries devastated by humanitarian crises. Brindisi is considered the “model base” for rapid humanitarian interventions by the United Nations and the world. The operational base at Brindisi, opened in 2000, includes the harbor, a civilian and a military airport. It is highly efficient in dispatching food and other assistance. Last August, it needed just 48 hours to ship a large amount of foodstuffs and other items to Beirut after the massive explosion in its harbor. The first shipment took place in June 2000 when a Russian Ilyushin took off with a field hospital and 36 tons of cargo for Asmara, while the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia was raging. The Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi has returned the Southern Italian city to its ancient glory as “the gate to the Orient.” As to the international humanitarian community, the Nobel Peace Prize is handsomely deserved. Just as comforting is the thought that multilateralism is not dead on Trump’s MAGA shores.