WFP fights hunger in food-deprived places, crises, war zones
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - The World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to fight hunger amid the coronavirus pandemic. This recognition sheds light on vulnerable communities in the Middle East and Africa that the UN agency seeks to aid, those who are starving and living in war zones that seldom attract the world's attention.
From Yemen to South Sudan, food insecurity is a growing scourge, compounded by a mix of military conflict, environmental disasters, and the economic aftermath of the pandemic. Last year alone, the Rome-based organization helped almost 100 million people in 88 countries. Here's a look at some of these places:
In war-torn Yemen, dubbed the world's worst humanitarian disaster, millions of people depend on the WFP every month for survival. During nearly six years of conflict between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, the agency faced major challenges in providing aid to Yemenis in need. Violence is raging and many beneficiaries live in notoriously remote regions. The rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north of the country, have long blocked food aid, diverted it to front-line combat units and sold it at a profit on the black market.
Still, the WFP's large-scale operations in the poorest country in the Arab world, where 20 million people are suffering from a hunger crisis and another 3 million are starving to death as a result of the pandemic, are seen as essential. The agency helped avert a famine two years ago.
"Conditions in this country are such that it is impossible for any humanitarian organization to do a really good job," said Saleh al-Dobhi, an official with the health ministry in Yemen's internationally recognized government. “Nevertheless, the WFP is still doing critical work during the pandemic. We can say that this award is well deserved. "
The Ministry of Health, led by Houthi, criticized the agency for its Nobel Prize. Spokesman Youssef al-Hadhari told The Associated Press that his aid "does not solve the basic problems we are suffering from," including the "siege" by the Saudi-led coalition.
Few places in the world are as devastated as South Sudan, where more than half the population is starving, even two years after the official end of a civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and more than 2 million fled the country.
Meanwhile, widespread flooding has displaced well over half a million people, further complicating efforts by WFP and aid partners to use rising food prices to reach hard-hit areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And the danger of deadly violence is still a daily problem for humanitarian workers in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. As recently as this week, armed men fired at a WFP boat convoy carrying food aid to flood-affected communities. The WFP said three crew members were wounded and another was missing and likely dead.
In Sudan, where inflation has soared to 166% due to the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented 9.6 million people face potentially life-threatening food insecurity. The financially troubled transitional government, which took power after the overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, is fighting to stop the tailspin. During the pandemic, the number of starving children doubled to 1.1 million.
Ibrahim Yousef, director of the largest displacement camp from the war-torn Darfur region, welcomed the news of the WFP's Nobel Prize as a ray of hope in a desperate time.
"We have counted on WFP for decades," said Yousef, director of the Kalma Displacement Camp in South Darfur, noting that the agency's food aid has most recently helped stave off the malnutrition of those in camps suffering from the effects of virus-induced lockdowns , severe floods and attacks of ethnic violence. “Without their grain, many people would have nothing to eat here. We want this award to send a message to the world that we need more help now than before. "
In Syria, rival groups, but above all government forces, have imposed sieges for months as a weapon of war, which has led to severe food shortages in populous civil areas.
The eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus, downtown Homs and the rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, were besieged by government forces during the civil war.
During the ceasefire, the World Food Program occasionally managed to bring limited amounts of food to besieged cities where dozens have died of malnutrition and starvation diseases.
Associate press writers Cara Anna in Johannesburg and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.
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