U.N. World Food Program director calls on billionaires to “step up”

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The United Nations World Food Program is the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for combating world hunger and its efforts “to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” Last year, the program provided assistance to close to one million people across 88 countries.

David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. agency and former governor of South Carolina, told CBSN on Friday that the recognition is an “honor and a blessing,” especially “in a time like this.” According to Beasley, the number of people on the brink of starvation — not people going to bed hungry — jumped from 135 million people to 270 million people during the coronavirus pandemic

“With all the wealth we have in the world today, we have a cure for starvation, we have a cure for famine, we have a cure and it’s called food. But we need the money,” Beasley said. “Our people are dedicated to doing this job and getting it out there and saving lives.”

The Nobel Peace Prize comes with a cash award of $1 million, but Beasley said the World Food Program needs about $5 billion to feed the world’s hungry and starving people. He called on billionaires making record-breaking profits during the pandemic to think of the greater good. 

“This is a call to action to the world to step up — especially the billionaires who are making billions of dollars in COVID,” he said. “They need to step up. We need five billion dollars right now to actually — above and beyond what we normally get — to help keep millions of people from starving to death. That’s not too much to ask from those who are making billions right now.”

During the first three months of the pandemic, the net worth of the more than 600 billionaires in the U.S. grew by about 20%. Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his net worth increase by $43.8 billion in the first months of the pandemic.

“We’re feeding about 100 million people right now. Because of COVID, economic deterioration, war and conflict, we need to step that up,” Beasley said. “Otherwise, millions upon millions of people are going to die over the next few months because of all these complexities.”

Beasley, who recuperated from a case of COVID-19 himself, said the program’s network of food supply chains have been disrupted during the pandemic, making what was already a treacherous task — moving tons food through war zones and natural disasters — that much more difficult. 

In April, Beasley told CBS News’ Pamela Falk that the worst was yet to come from the pandemic due to the destabilization of donor nations’ economies. In July, he said that more than 11 million people in Latin America are “marching towards the brink of starvation” due to economic conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“When countries shut down their borders, or ports, or supply-chain distribution points, sometimes that’s the only port of opportunity for bringing in food for a country,” he said. In addition to the closure of physical points of entry, Beasley also noted that the pandemic has devastated international rates of remittance, money sent home by citizens living abroad, leaving whole economies devastated. He said that two billion people have been impacted in terms of remittances, adding, “that’s already hit over $100 billion worth of less revenues for families in very poor countries.”

In awarding the Nobel prize to the World Food Program, the committee noted that, despite the obstacles brought by the coronavirus pandemic, the program has continued to provide its invaluable assistance. As the world waits for a COVID-19 vaccine, it said, the best vaccine for chaos is food. 

“COVID has had a dynamic negative impact,” Beasley said. “We have to work these two pandemics together, otherwise you’ll have more people dying from hunger than from the actual COVID itself.”

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