UN World Food Programme director informs about feeding the hungry, creating peace

On Friday, September 10, at 2pm, Baylor will be hosting a panel about Global Hunger. Among the panelists will be (left to right) David Beasley, Asma Lateef, Elsa Murano, and Baylor professors Dr. Victor Hinojosa and Dr. Jenny Howell. Photo courtesy of Craig Nash and Baylor University

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

The Baylor Collaborative on Global Hunger and Poverty hosted a Forum on Global Hunger last Friday. David Beasley, the executive director of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), was the keynote speaker.

Beasley is a former state legislator from South Carolina and served as the state’s 113th governor from 1995 to 1999. As governor, he revitalized the state’s economy and pushed to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse dome — an effort that won him the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2003.

Beasley became the executive director of the WFP in 2017. The WFP is the largest humanitarian organization in the world, feeding about 135 million people annually in 90 different countries. The organization won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its work delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) and food to people in need during the pandemic.

“A person just died from hunger,” Beasley said as he counted on his fingers and reached four. He counted again. “How many people are going to die from hunger, just while we sit here?”

According to Beasley, around 9 million people die from hunger every year. That comes out to around 750,000 people per month and 24,650 people per day. Going off of those numbers, around 2,000 people died from hunger while Beasley spoke.

“These are not just numbers,” Beasley said. “These are numbers with names — people in countries. $400 trillion worth of wealth, fluid wealth on Earth, and people are starving to death. This is a shame on humanity.”

During his speech, Beasley touched on many subjects relating to world hunger. He discussed the causes of global hunger, the role of food in creating peace and how his faith has driven him in his mission to end hunger. He also was critical of governments around the world and called on the private sector to help more in the fight against hunger.

The No. 1 cause of global hunger is conflict. Many of the countries the WFP operates in are hot zones for conflict. The instability within these zones creates resource shortages, and Beasley said many terrorist groups use food to force starving people to fight for them.

“If we end world conflict, we end world hunger,” Beasley said. “Food brings peace. Hunger brings conflict, destabilization and problems. They are tied together. We can end hunger by 2030, but it won’t happen as long as we end man-made conflict.”

Beasley also cited hunger as a driving force for mass migration. He was critical of Democrats and Republicans for wasting money on migrant camps instead of creating solutions that addressed the root of the problem.

“It’s like you got leaking water lines in the ceiling, and all you want to do is fight over where to put the buckets,” Beasley said. “The carpet gets ruined. The oak table gets ruined. The curtains are ruined. The furniture has to be replaced. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to go up there and fix the leak by addressing the root cause.”

Beasley cited a Washington Post article that said the U.S. was spending $60 million per week on migrant shelters, at a cost of around $3,750 per person. Beasley said his solution, which would address the root of the problem, would only cost between $1 and $2 per person per week.

Beasley also criticized billionaires whose wealth grew during the pandemic as people around the world starved. He called on the private sector to contribute more in the fight against hunger.

“There was a new billionaire created every 17 hours,” Beasley said. “Net worth increase per day of the world’s billionaires was $5.4 billion per day. I’ve got 41 million people knocking on famine’s door. I need $6 billion extra dollars to reach that 41 million. Is it too much to ask — just for one day’s worth of net worth increase of the world’s wealthiest? You will never solve poverty without the private sector being front and center.”

According to Beasley, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people in need of food assistance jumped from 135 million to 270 million. In addition to delivering food to people in need, the WFP also began delivering PPE and diagnostic kits around the world and transported humanitarian workers. These efforts earned the WFP the Nobel Peace Prize.

The WFP has many different programs all based around one commodity: food. Some programs are more short-term, such as emergency relief after a natural disaster, and some are longer projects meant to solve many problems a country may face.

David Austin, the WFP’s director of strategic partnerships, said the WFP uses food as a tool of peace to bring people together, promote other societal changes within nations and drive economic growth.

Austin outlined a few examples of how the WFP uses this leverage. Austin said the WFP uses food programs in schools in order to both feed kids and educate them.

“We’ll also say that within two years, half of the children in the schools have to be girls,” Austin said. “So we get girls educated and literate, so she can learn to read and write. All of the data shows that she will be economically more proud, because by learning to read and write, it exposes her to new ideas and it gives her greater agency.”

According to Austin, giving greater agency to marginalized groups is a big part of the WFP’s mission.

“When we help smallholder farmers that maybe have one to two acres a person, instead of just growing corn and beans, through our field staff, they might grow 15 different crops, so it diversifies their income,” Austin said. “It gives them greater nutritional output, so their children aren’t stunted. It gives them access to different markets. It also gives them greater agency as a community.”

“When they start to have economic power, they start to gain a little bit of political identity,” Austin said. “They’re not as marginalized.”

Austin said the WFP looks to partner with other organizations in the U.S. that can help the WFP achieve its mission of ending hunger by 2030. Austin said the WFP has been working with universities because they are filled with optimistic and mission-driven people who want to make change in the world.

Houston freshman Avery Bulsiewicz attended the forum after hearing about it from a professor and said her firsthand experience with Hurricane Harvey taught her the importance of helping those in need.

“I worked with the cleanup crew during that time, and seeing people in my own community who were going hungry, homeless and other issues like that really struck a chord in my heart,” Bulsiewicz said.

Throughout his speech, Beasley repeatedly emphasized the importance of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” He said that humans must come together in order to take care of those in need.

“It’s really quite remarkable — even the worst of the worst, are all still created in the image of God and respond to the goodness of helping innocent people,” Beasley said.

Both Beasley and Austin cited their faith as driving factors in their mission.

“Jesus was really clear that love your neighbor as yourself and also love your enemy,” Austin said. “So when I got to know people who were different than me, they either lived in a different country, they looked different, their lifestyle was different, or they were communists. It just impacted me. People are people. God loves everybody.”