WFP chief: Nobel Prize message to world not to forget Sahel

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — The head of the World Food Program said winning the Nobel Peace Prize while he was visiting the impoverished and war-weakened Sahel was a message to the world that it should not forget the region.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley spoke to reporters during a brief stop in Burkina Faso Friday, shortly after the agency won the Peace Prize for fighting hunger at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has driven millions more people to the brink of starvation.

“The fact that I was in the Sahel when we received the announcement is really a message from above that, hey world with all the things going on around the world today please don’t forget about the people in the Sahel!" said Beasley, who was in neighbouring Niger when he heard the news. "Please don’t forget about the people that are struggling and dying from starvation.”

Beasley said he was particularly concerned about Burkina Faso, which has faced a violent Islamic insurgency that’s cut off swaths of land and pushed millions of people to hunger. More than 3 million people in Burkina Faso are in need of emergency food aid, and some 11,000 people are facing famine conditions, according to the latest security report by the government and U.N. agencies.

“We can avert famine in Burkina Faso but we’ve got to have two things, money and access. Without both there’ll be famine,” he said.

He’s hoping the prize will propel donors, billionaires and people around the world to alleviate suffering, especially in the face of the coronavirus, which will have a “catastrophic” impact on next year’s funding, he said.

“2021 is screaming around the corner, there are no reserves, the economic downturn is taking place, the ripple effect to poor countries is devastating,” said Beasley.

Aid workers say the Peace Prize is a “timely recognition” of the importance of the WFP’s role in fragile countries like Burkina Faso, said Donald Brooks, chief executive officer for Initiative: Eau, a U.S. aid group focused on increasing the safety of drinking water in crisis zones.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso’s government says it doesn’t have enough money to feed the more than 1 million internally displaced people. Boukare Ouedraogo, the mayor of Kaya town, which hosts nearly 500,000 displaced people, said the situation is so devastating it keeps him up at night.

“What makes me cry, what makes me not sleep, is to see these women, these children who are moving around and who come to knock on my door with a starving look saying that they have nothing to eat,” he said.