Most topics discussed these days are done in the context or against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is playing a dominant role when it comes to the environment, procurement of essential food items, the economy, politics and of course the health of the people.
But amid the health authorities struggling to get a handle on the latest outbreak of the COVID-19 cluster originating at the Minuwangoda Brandix Garment Factory in the Gampaha District and reports of infected patients surfacing from other parts of the country and from other work places, came the laudable news of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) being awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
In its post-award speech, the WFP highlighted its work in Sri Lanka, apart from its selfless and sacrificial service of combatting hunger in several parts of the world. As the largest humanitarian organization in the world; last year alone it had assisted nearly 100 million people in 88 countries.
“WFP was recognized 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 to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
She said with this year’s award, the committee wanted to “turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger”.
“The World Food Programme plays a key role in multilateral co-operation in making food security an instrument of peace,” she told a news conference in Oslo.
Ms. Reiss-Andersen said the COVID-19 crisis has added to global food insecurity with an increasing number of people going hungry, and the pandemic, with its brutal impact on economies and communities, is pushing millions of people worldwide to the brink of starvation.
Globally and in Sri Lanka, WFP focuses on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations and has worked with the government and other partners to save lives and livelihoods and make profound changes to ensure people have better access to food and nutrition.
“For more than half a century, WFP staff has dedicated themselves to helping communities in Sri Lanka; from assistance during the tsunami and the post-conflict period, to providing nourishing school meals to children,” WFP Country Director in Sri Lanka, Brenda Barton said. “We are profoundly honoured that WFP has received this award, which is in recognition of WFP staff, worldwide including those in Sri Lanka, working tirelessly to develop a better future for vulnerable communities everywhere.”
WFP head David Beasley told the BBC’s News hour he was in shock following the announcement.
“I was literally, for the first time in my life without words,” he said. “To receive this award is recognition of the men and women at the World Food Programme who put their lives on the line every day for the struggling, suffering people around the world. So I hope this is a signal and a message that the World Food Programme is a role model and that we all have got to do more.”
“If there is a deserving organization then this is certainly one of them. The people there do incredible work helping others and therefore I am very pleased about the awarding of this Nobel Peace Prize,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said while congratulating the WFP.
The Nobel Peace Committee said COVID-19 had further boosted the importance of the group.
“The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world,” it said in a statement. “In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts.”
Be that as it may, the urgent need to feed the millions of people worldwide going hungry daily, brings to mind these emotional words of Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who advocated nonviolence, justice and empowerment of the poor, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
We conclude by urging the government to appease the need for food, clothing and shelter of those trapped in various degrees of destitution, deprivation and degradation with their plight made worse amid the latest onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.