New Delhi: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme (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”, said Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday (October 10), while announcing the award.
Watch the very moment the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was announced.
Presented by Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 9, 2020
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) established in 1961 is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security. In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to 97 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. The WFP has been working in India for over 50 years now and has supported government safety net programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and has even provided food through school meals.
According to WFP, there are 690 million hungry people around the world and around 60 per cent of them live in countries affected by conflict. By 2030, it is estimated that nearly half of the global poor will be living in fragile and conflict-affected situations. The WFP data suggests that people living in countries with long-running crises are more than twice as likely to be undernourished than people elsewhere.
WFP has been working in conflict and natural disaster hit areas for years now and continues to provide food security to people in need. NDTV spoke to Bishow Parajuli, United Nations World Food Programme Representative and Country Director to India to understand the WFP’s work and the challenges India is facing in terms of food security.
NDTV: WFP has been on the frontlines of conflicts and natural disasters for more than 60 years. Please take us through some of your works that led to this recognition.
Bishow Parajuli: The WFP works in 84 countries across the world and our work takes us to wherever it is needed and we are there where there are mass difficulty and mass hunger. Our focus is on saving lives in the crisis, the hotbed of emergencies like war, cyclones, drought, and floods and help people wherever food is needed. We are there now during the COVID time as well. The real crisis is that people don’t have jobs and are hungry and they need food. We are also there in normal situations to help people to regain their assets, make them sustainable and help them with food. We are supporting children in school with lunch. Along with focusing on saving lives, we also work towards improving lives in normal situations and heling people sustain. WFP staff puts their life on the line every day to bring food and assistance to more than 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world.
NDTV: How are conflict and insecurity linked to hunger and how can hunger be addressed in such situations?
Bishow Parajuli: Hunger and poverty lead to conflict because the general expression is that a hungry man is an angry man. When somebody wants to work and doesn’t find work and has no food to feed himself that obviously brings frustration and conflict. So that dissolves in unhappiness and agitation. In a number of countries, where there has been a fuel price rise, or when global food price rises happened, there was a lot of tension and conflict. It is a natural phenomenon. When you have conflict, people move out to save lives; they migrate and that results in the unavailability of food. For example, people ran from Syria to Europe, taking a boat ride and risking their lives. If they had livelihood and food they wouldn’t have done so. Forced migration happens because of a lack of any sort of support system for them and that’s how one problem leads to another. They are all interlinked. War and conflicts result in food insecurity and hunger and sometimes poverty also leads to conflict and civil strike.
To address this, a combination of efforts is needed. A human being needs dignity, wants to feel good and secured, and it all starts from food which is a fundamental requirement. We need to look at the hierarchy of needs. Our ultimate goal must be to help people stand on their own and feed themselves. What is also important is to look into the need of children and women in terms of food and specific requirements.
NDTV: How has WFP used food to build peace? Please elaborate on the work WFP does before, during and after a conflict with an aim to ensure both access to food and maintaining peace.
Bishow Parajuli: Food prevents conflicts; if you are providing food support it brings elements of food harmony. Sometimes, conflict happens because you are fighting for resources. By engaging and providing food support you create harmony.
Another way is by providing food you help people to settle in communities, prevent big migration and then losing lives. During Ebola, WFP provided food to people at home so that they don’t move out which prevented them from getting an infection. Similarly, now, WFP is providing food and ration to people who have lost jobs.
In poor households, 70-80 per cent of the income is spent on food. If there is no food, people in many countries will resort to prostitution which can lead to a rise in cases of HIV and AIDS. Lack of food can also lead to a rise in crimes so for stability and tranquillity, we need food.
For example, India has safety net programmes for its citizens and 8 million people are covered under PDS. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is providing extra ration under schemes like PDS. But many countries don’t have these types of systems and that’s where organisations like us come to save people’s life and sufferings.
Before a conflict, WFP helps to build resilience at the community level through various development projects like construction of roads, developing irrigation system, planting or simply distributes food to meet emergency needs. Often we provide food as an incentive for people to work in building irrigation canal or plant trees. The food we provide is purchased from the same country or the region we are supporting so that local marketing also gets a push.
During a conflict, in a lot of places, people are displaced and they are moved to refugee camps or makeshift camps. We reach there to provide food support so their life is saved. We prevent famine and death. It has done in many situations like in Sudan and Central Africa.
After a conflict, WFP helps to build stability and a country bounce back.
A hungry stomach cannot learn therefore, WFP feeds 40-50 million children in public schools. It helps them in learning better, provides nutrition and an element of equity.
NDTV: How has the role of food security changed and become even more important during the coronavirus pandemic?
Bishow Parajuli: COVID pandemic has resulted in doubling the food insecurity. Our projections tell that the number of people facing acute food insecurity stands to rise to 265 million in 2020. This is in addition to the 690 million hungry people around the world. This can lead to famine and starvation. There are several factors to this; firstly, people living abroad would send some money to their family but due to the loss of job they don’t have enough money to send. Secondly, in some situations, prices have gone up so people cannot afford to buy wholesome meals. They may have only rice or bread but no vegetables or a proper quantity of lentils.
Pregnant women, new mothers and children, especially those under two years of age need extra nutrition and help. They need more vitamins and minerals. The brain development happens during the first two years of birth and wholesome nutrition is needed at that time. Inadequate nutrition at that stage means a child will be less productive than a child who is well nourished. It is a national loss; you have a weaker human resource compared to a wholesome and fully intelligent resource.
We need a mechanism to support and protect the vulnerable population with nutritive food like oil, pulses, cereals or some support in terms of buying vegetables and other essentials. We also need to support small enterprises and businesses and provide access to credit and cash to people to restart their business.
COVID has really made humongous damage to the economy. India is in a better position because the government has been proactive and its growth was good in the past years so, hopefully, it will bounce back soon. But many countries don’t even have a budget and funds to do things. They depend on external aid and support and that’s where enormous challenge exists. India has made tremendous progress in agriculture and is self-sufficient in food. India has a stock of cereals so it’s time to join in solidarity with those who need help.
NDTV: How is WFP continuing with its operations during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Bishow Parajuli: In India, we are running a number of initiatives like improving nutrition, establishing best practices and enhancing availability and consumption under ICDS. Secondly, our programme supports rice fortification and we demonstrate best practices for states to scale up. We are working with the government to help improve on mid-day meal which is not the same in every area.
We are introducing innovations into safety net programme like PDS. For example, we have developed prototypes of a grain ATM which is similar to a regular ATM used to dispense cash. Beneficiaries will not have to rely on the shopkeepers for ration or take a day off from work to stand in the queue and collect ration. They can go to the grain ATM and procure it as per their convenience.
Currently, we are working in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Kerala and we want to expand in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand.
NDTV: Coming to India, what are some of the biggest challenges the country faces?
Bishow Parajuli: India has positive support programmes so that has been a blessing but we need to look after vulnerable people including those who have lost jobs and make sure everyone is getting food. Secondly, we need to continuously work toward improving nutrition intake.
Thirdly, we need to support small enterprises. Remember, recently a video of Baba Ka Dhaba went viral on social media where a Dhaba owner is crying because his earnings are nil due to the pandemic. You all came to help but there are thousands of Dhabas and small enterprises that need help. From salon owners, rickshaw pullers, auto drivers, everyone has been affected and we citizens need to take care.
I liked it when Delhi Chief Minister made an appeal to help people in need. We must join hands in humanity and support and help each other.
NDTV: How has COVID-19 impacted India in terms of zero hunger and its nutrition targets?
Bishow Parajuli: The loss of food is one of the biggest challenges right now. Of course, the government is putting efforts and providing support but the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) that provides free food grains to people will end in November end. Probably, that needs to be extended and observe what’s happening. It is also important to catch employment schemes and job opportunities.
NDTV: India is one of the largest producers of food in the world and yet it has the largest number of malnourished people. How do you explain this dichotomy?
Bishow Parajuli: Availability of food alone is not a guarantee for food security or nutrition security. There are other things like access – people need to have the purchasing power to buy food and buy enough food. I think, the challenge in India is people eat cereals but they are not eating diversified food like vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, all round. To address this, a lot of efforts are being made like POSHAN Abhiyaan initiated by the Prime Minister; food fortification to provide extra nutrition to people; mid-day meal scheme for school students.
Malnutrition is a result of food, water, personal hygiene and sanitation. Hygiene and sanitation were missing which is why the government the toilet programme (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) and now efforts are being made for access to water as well.
Sometimes, culture also acts as a barrier. Our survey found that women eat at the end as a result of which they eat leftovers and sometimes sleep on an empty stomach. There are other taboos like pregnant women or nourishing mother should not eat a particular food and that restrains them from getting enough nutrition. Then there is a caste system; people don’t touch eggs and meat as a result of which the required nutrition levels are not met.
The first 1,000 days of life are crucial for overall development and well-being which is why an expecting mother needs extra nutrition. A lack of nutrition in the mother leads to the birth of an undernourished child. Therefore, good food, sanitation, health and education, all play a pivotal role in eradicating malnutrition.
NDTV: What steps are required to achieve the goal of Zero Hunger and malnutrition-free India?
Bishow Parajuli: Firstly, ensuring people have access to food and livelihood. Secondly, continued food support is required. Maybe diversify or increase support to them by providing not only wheat or rice but also pulses or cash. Thirdly, in a number of states, government programmes are not getting much attention. Therefore, we need to examine and provide backup support to them. Fourthly, support elderlies, and women who are unable to earn during the pandemic. Lastly, we also need to think about people employed in the tourism industry. India has fantastic tourist attractions but right now, the industry has been hit hard. People working in that industry have lost their job. So, how we help these people? It is important to think about different segments of the population.
NDTV: COVID-19 has brought the focus on climate change, how big a threat is climate change to food security and what are the short, medium and long term measures that are needed to deal with the climate crisis?
Bishow Parajuli: Climate has a direct link to agriculture and to the food system. Therefore it has a huge implication and inter-relationship. In India and many parts of the world, farmers depend on rainfall for crops. Imagine the impact of no rainfall. At the same time, too much rain and flood is also an issue. There is also a problem of drought and cyclones. All disasters directly impact farmers.
As a result of climate change, the whole monsoon season has shifted from June – July to July – August and that has led to a delay in harvest.
Air pollution like in Delhi has health implications. So, reducing emissions, carbon, moving to green energy is really important. India is taking very good steps towards it like the International Solar alliance, switching to electric vehicles. There are needs for expansion of these efforts.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.