Nobel winner urges billionaires to save millions from famine

The head of the World Food Program, this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is urging billionaires to donate just a few billion to save millions of lives

UNITED NATIONS -- The head of the World Food Program, this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, again urged billionaires to donate just a few billion to save millions of lives, saying Friday the number of people “marching toward starvation” has jumped from 135 million to 270 million since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Humanity needs the help right now,” David Beasley said. “This is a one-time request. ... The world is at a crossroads, and we need from the billionaires to step up in a way they’ve never stepped up before.”

The executive director of the U.N. food agency told a virtual U.N. press conference that the global wealth of some 2,200 billionaires rose by about $2 trillion between April and July as the pandemic raged. He was referring to a study by Swiss bank UBS and accounting firm PwC published last week which said the global wealth of billionaires climbed from $8 trillion at the start of April to $10.2 trillion in July.

“I just need a few billion to save millions of lives and save humanity from one of the greatest catastrophes since World War II,” Beasley said. “It’s not too much to ask.”

Asked for names of some of the billionaires he was targeting Beasley replied: “I don’t get to hang around with that crowd. I’m hanging around people who are starving to death."

He said WFP is “greatly concerned about 2021” because budgets weren’t calculated to take into account the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, he said, many governments reached deeper into their pockets while they could and gave the U.N. and its agencies more money, but the governments are now “tapped out.”

Beasley said debts for middle- and low-income countries were put on hold or deferred until January 2021, and “that’s $8 trillion worth of debt services" coming due. In addition, remittances from overseas workers to families in developing countries have fallen, and lockdowns are adding to deteriorating economies.

“It is an appalling situation,” he said.

Beasley said that’s why a one-time infusion of cash from the billionaires is so essential for 2021.

He said the humanitarian crises in the world are worsening, with Yemen “the worst of the worst of the worst,” Africa’s Sahel region “undoubtedly one of the worst,” Congo “just horrific” and Syria “deteriorating.” He said many other countries are also deteriorating including Nigeria, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Beasley got COVID-19 in March and has resumed traveling, including to Niger in the Sahel where he was last week when the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Program stunned and delighted staff and the broader United Nations family.

The WFP chief said he went to the Sahel because “nobody is bringing to the world the calamities that are developing in a catastrophic way, and this is a time we’ve all got to come together.”

“So all hands on deck,” Beasley said. “If we don’t get the support we need, you literally can be looking at famine in several dozen countries. But if we get the support we need we’ll avert famine.”