Clair MacDougall was reporting on a follow-up story for PassBlue about Lieut. Col. Carlos Moisés Guillén Alfaro, the first official United Nations peacekeeper to die of Covid-19, when on Oct. 9 she heard that the World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and that its executive director, David Beasley, was in town, so she switched gears to cover the big news.
“In town” is Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where MacDougall, a journalist from Australia, lives. Beasley, a former South Carolina governor from the United States, happened to be visiting the Sahel region to see firsthand the humanitarian and development problems (and a few successes). He talked to a few reporters at the Thomas Sankara International Airport at the end of the day, having just flown back from neighboring Niger, en route back to his base in Rome.
He expressed his surprise at the World Food Program being awarded the Nobel prize but also used the moment to make a global appeal: the UN agency needs much more money to address looming famines, circumstances worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are desperately short of the monies we need right now,” Beasley told the reporters at the airport, specifying that the agency required an additional $5 billion, above its usual needs, “to keep 30 million people from dying.” He characterized the situation as “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.”
In this new UN-Scripted podcast episode, PassBlue looks at previous Nobel Peace Prizes that have been awarded to UN organizations or individuals, including two secretaries-general, and the significance of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize being given to the UN during its 75th anniversary amid a year of harsh criticism by the Trump administration against many parts of the institution. To upload the new episode from SoundCloud, click here; and from Patreon, here.
The first Nobel Peace Prize to go to the UN was awarded in 1950 to Ralph Bunche, an African-American diplomat, for his work as the UN mediator in Palestine during the 1948 war in the Middle East. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees won the prize twice, in 1954 and 1981, and the first secretary-general to receive the prize was Dag Hammarskjold, a Swede who was awarded the prize posthumously in 1961, after he died in a mysterious plane crash in Africa. Kofi Annan received the prize with the rest of the UN in 2001.
In the podcast episode, MacDougall also discusses the humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, where 3.3 million people are facing food shortages, and the Sahel region more broadly.
As the International Committee of the Red Cross said this week about Burkina Faso, where violence has escalated despite the pandemic, “about 2.8 million people, many of them forcibly displaced from their homes, are now estimated to face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, representing a more than 200 percent increase from the same period last year.”
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.
Kacie Candela is an assistant editor for PassBlue and a news anchor and reporter with WFUV, a public radio station in the Bronx, N.Y., where she covers the UN and other beats. Her work has won various awards from the New York State Associated Press Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, PRNDI, and the Alliance for Women in Media.