Nobel Peace Prize goes to organization led by former S.C. governor

David Beasley was in a World Food Programme meeting in Niger, West Africa, when a team member came in and simply said “the Nobel Peace Prize.”

“Wow, who got it?” Beasley asked.

“We did,” the staffer replied.

“Oh, my goodness,” the stunned executive director of the World Food Programme said, adding an enlivened “Wow.”

Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina and Southern Baptist church member when he was in the statehouse, has led the United Nations agency since 2017, recommended for the five-year term by President Trump.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in announcing the prize Oct. 9 in Oslo, noted, “In the face of the [COVID-19] pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts.”

The committee commended the world’s largest humanitarian organization for “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.”

“The World Food Programme was an active participant in the diplomatic process that culminated in May 2018 in the UN Security Council’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 2417, which for the first time explicitly addressed the link between conflict and hunger,” the Nobel Committee stated. “The Security Council also underscored UN Member States’ obligation to help ensure that food assistance reaches those in need, and condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare.”

Bryant Wright, president of Southern Baptists’ Send Relief compassion ministry, said, “I congratulate the World Food Programme, and especially David Beasley, who has provided such great leadership there. They are able to meet hunger needs around the world, especially in places that are difficult to reach.

“In the conversations we’ve had with him by Zoom in the last few weeks about hunger challenges around the world, he is obviously a dedicated Christian and was excited to know that Southern Baptist Christians are eager to be of help through Send Relief.”

Beasley, in speaking to PBS NewsHour, said the Nobel Peace Prize serves as “a call to action.”

“Just in the last three years, the number of people on the brink of starvation had risen before COVID from 80 million to 135 million,” Beasley said. “And now with COVID, the number of people — and I’m not talking about people going to bed hungry — on the brink of starvation is now 270 million people. … We’re facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.”

The Rome-based WFP needs “an extra $5 billion to save millions of lives around the world,” Beasley said, calling particularly on billionaires “to step up. … With all the wealth in the world today, no one should be dying from hunger, not a single person.”

So far in 2020, the WFP has received nearly $6.4 billion in funding or donated goods, with over $2.7 billion coming from the U.S., the Associated Press reported. 

Pressing hunger crises exist in such countries as Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Beasley said.

Where COVID-fueled hunger is intense, Beasley said, “Three things are going to happen. One, you’re going to have famine, I mean literally of biblical proportions. Two, you’re going to have destabilization. And three, you’re going to have mass migration.

“We can solve all that. We have a cure against starvation: It’s called food,” he said. “We need money to get it to the people who need the help. If we don’t, we’re going to pay for it a thousand-fold more with the problems that result from the lack of security, because when you have food insecurity, you have destabilization, wars, conflicts and migration.”

Prior to assuming his WFP position in 2017, Beasley had been chairman of the board of the Center for Global Strategies, a nonprofit organization in Greenville, S.C., which he co-founded in 2005 with Henry Deneen, who served as chief legal counsel to Beasley as South Carolina’s governor. In Columbia, Beasley, whose term in office was from 1995-99, and his wife, Mary, who have two daughters and a son, were members of Shandon Baptist Church.

— Art Toalston is a writer in Nashville.