The Norwegian Nobel Committee couldn’t host its traditionally elegant Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Thursday, and there was none of the pomp and circumstance to hail the winner in Oslo. The Corona pandemic spoiled all that, but the head of the World Food Programme gamely accepted this year’s Peace Prize digitally from the UN organization’s headquarters in Rome, calling it a “call to action” to ward off famine next year.
David Beasley, the American executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), made a short and almost painfully direct appeal when accepting this year’s Peace Prize.
“This Nobel Peace Prize is more than a ‘thank you’ (for the WFP’s efforts to feed the hungry),” Beasley said. “It is a call to action.” He pointed to the “wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse” leaving as many as 270 million people “marching toward starvation.” He agonized, in an interview with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week, over how the pandemic has doubled the number of people plagued by hunger. He noted how the world has responded to the pandemic, and wishes it would respond just as strongly to hunger, not least since he claims there is enough collective wealth and food in the world to keep everyone from starving.
Instead, he predicts famine next year of unprecedented proportions. Progress made by the WFP last year has been largely negated by the pandemic this year. With national economies weakened, Beasley fears resources won’t be allocated to efforts to fend off famine next year.
Calls food ‘the pathway to peace’
“My tragic duty today is to tell you: Famine is at humanity’s doorstep, for millions and million of people on earth,” Beasley said.”Failure to prevent famine in our day will destroy so many lives and cause the fall of much we hold dear.” He thanked the Norwegian Nobel Committee, put in charge of choosing Peace Prize winners more than a century ago by prize benefactor Alfred Nobel, “for acknowledging our work of using food to combat hunger, to mitigate against destabilization of nations, to prevent mass migration, to end conflict and to create stability and peace. We believe that food is the pathway to peace.”
He urged far more support for the UN’s World Food Programme: “Please don’t ask us to choose who lives and who dies. In the spirit of Alfred Nobel, as inscribed on this medal, “peace and brotherhood,” let’s feed them all.”
His remarks followed a congratulatory statement from the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that chose the WFP “for its efforts to combat hunger, 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.”
Berit Reiss-Andersen, a Norwegian attorney, said the Nobel Committee also believes the WFP, as a UN humanitarian agency with global responsibility, “represents exactly the kind of international cooperation and commitment that the world is in dire need of today.”
She made a point of letting Beasley know how the Oslo City Hall would have been “filled to capacity” for the Peace Prize ceremony that’s always held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. The ceremony would have honoured the WFP, Reiss-Andersen added, and he would have “been greeted by the Norwegian Royal Family, the President of the Parliament, the Prime Minister and other official representatives Norway” and, “equally important, you would have been hailed enthusiastically by the representatives of civil society.” Thousands of Norwegians take part every year in a torchlit parade to honor prizewinners, who wave back from their balcony of the Nobel Suite at Oslo’s Grand Hotel.
Instead, Reiss-Andersen had to deliver her remarks digitally from the Norwegian Nobel Institute (decorated with flowers around her podium for the occasion) while he had to stay in Rome. The prize medal and certificate for the WFP had been sent by diplomatic courier and were handed over to him by the co-president of the International Peace Bureau, which won its own Nobel Peace Prize 110 years ago.
Hoping for a ‘proper’ ceremony in Oslo next year
It’s not the first time a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony had to be cancelled or postponed. There were no ceremonies during World War II when Norway itself was occupied by Nazi German forces. There were a few years in the 1950s and 1960s when the committee couldn’t decide on a prizewinner, and winners including Mikhail Gorbachev, Aung Sun Kyi and Chinese dissident Liu Xiao Bao were prevented from attending the ceremonies to collect their prizes in the years they were awarded. Liu never did receive his prize, dying of cancer while still being held in custody by Chinese authorities who condemned his promotion of human rights and freedom of expression. Reiss-Andersen, also bashed by the regime in Beijing, wasn’t even allowed into China to pay her respects before or after his death.
Now it’s the Corona virus, which ironically first broke out in China, that prevented Beasley and the WFP from being honoured in what Reiss-Andersen called “the proper, customary way.” She expressed hopes that “at a later point, we hope next year, we will be honoured to welcome you to Oslo … to celebrate this year’s Peace Prize Laureate.” That will likely also include a traditional banquet at Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where everyone invited has plenty to eat.