As It Happens·Q&A

Days before the World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize, one of its convoys was attacked

The World Food Program won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, but the organization's South Sudan director says their work is far from done.

1 person presumed dead, 2 injured, and 225 tonnes of food lost after river attack in South Sudan

World Food Program South Sudan director Matthew Hollingworth takes part in the distribution of grain dropped in gunny bags from a plane at a village in Ayod county on Feb. 6. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

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The World Food Program won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, but the organization's South Sudan director says their work is far from done.

The prestigious award comes just days after one of the UN agency's convoys came under attack on the West Nile in South Sudan, leaving one person missing and presumed dead, and two others injured.

Matthew Hollingworth, the WFP's South Sudan director, says they lost 225 tonnes of food that day, which would have fed 14,000 people in a country that's just emerged from six years of civil war. What's more, he says the loss has the potential to stir up further conflict in the country, which in turn would create more hunger.

It's a vicious cycle that Hollingworth knows all too well. He's calling on individuals, organizations and governments around the world to invest in ending it. Here's part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong. 

What message do you think the Nobel committee was trying to send by giving you and your colleagues this prize?

I think clearly the world recognizes that in too many conflict zones today, the outcome of those conflicts is hunger and starvation, and that the world has to recognize and should recognize that food can bring peace to a country. It can be a game changer. But, of course, when it's not there, it can also bring more violence and more conflict.

So we need to invest in the work that we're doing at the World Food Program with our partners and other organizations to try and ensure that the 690 million people that go to sleep hungry each night, their needs are met. Because through that, we can bring more stability to the world, more peace to the world.

It's not just a result of conflict. Hunger is often used as a weapon in conflict. And that was specifically cited by the Nobel committee as a reason to give you this award. How has that weapon been used against the people that you're trying to help?

Certainly within South Sudan, there's been many decades now of conflict. And, of course, with a very tactical understanding of when a community will plant or when a community will harvest their crops, you can completely interrupt that and bring hunger that will actually affect a community for an entire season.

In other countries where I've worked, besiegement is a tactic of war.... The worst part of the besiegement is stopping food and goods going into an area.

Frequently, hunger is an effect of conflict, but sometimes it's also a cause. You actually have big issues of social cohesion when you displace people forcibly, when people go into other people's territory or other communities' territory, and they actually interrupt and harm that community's ability to farm or look after their animals.

Children wait in line to receive aid during a visit organized by The World Food Program in the conflict-affected remote town of Kauda, Sudan, in January. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

This very week, one of your food convoys came under attack, if I've got that right. Can you tell us what happened?

Unfortunately, on Monday of this week, we had a boat convoy going up the White Nile from the town of Bor up to the town of Malakal, delivering lifesaving food assistance to communities affected by this year's floods. And it was ambushed. And, unfortunately, we lost one of the skippers of one of the cargo boats, and we had three others injured. And one of the boats, indeed, was sunk.

That was 225 metric tonnes of food that should be going to feed 14,000 people further up the Nile. Those are the kinds of incidents that can actually create greater violence and extend the conflict, because you're taking the food from the mouths of other communities.

Is hunger and is lack of food … one of those just human things that will always happen? Or is this a goal that we can aim eventually to eradicate?

We have to aspire to eradicate hunger and we have to aspire to bring peace to the world. If we don't, then the world is going to be a much worse place. But that said, I mean, there has always been hunger in war. There has always been hunger where there is war.

But we need to ensure that that's an understood aspect, that every government in the world, whether they are donor governments or, in fact, the governments or the parties in charge of a country, that they recognize that is unacceptable, that there is accountability, and that organizations like the World Food Program will raise alarms when we need to raise that alarm, but we will also be there to help the people who are affected by conflict and by hunger.

Just by way of example, I mean, what would happen if, say, the WFP was unable to continue operations just in South Sudan right now?

In South Sudan, the World Food Program feeds five million people a year, and we support more than a million children with nutrition programs and another half a million children with school meals programs. I mean, that's a lot of people — five million people that would not be receiving assistance if we were not here. That's an enormous impact on a country's stability and on their future, the children, who are their future.

We will never eliminate hunger unless we bring peace to areas of the world.- Matthew Hollingworth, South Sudan director of the World Food Program

What do you hope that something like the Nobel Peace Prize might mean for your efforts, for those efforts and for the efforts of the WFP writ large in years to come?

I hope it raises the profile of the world trying to reach zero hunger by 2030 and really investing in trying to reach zero hunger by 2030. That's the first thing.

The second thing is to ensure that we all recognize we will never get there, we will never eliminate hunger unless we bring peace to areas of the world.

And that takes investment. That takes time, it takes patience, and it takes organizations like the World Food Program, but also others in the multilateral system in the United Nations, with the non-government organizations that do an amazing job with us.... As a world, we have to come behind that and support it because, you know, we want stability. And if we want prosperity, we have to end hunger and conflict.

Do you sometimes feel like the rest of the world doesn't recognize the immediacy and the real starving reality that is being faced by, as you say, millions of people around the world?

I don't go to bed worrying that the world is not awake to this because we do receive resources from many, many countries, from the private sector, from private individuals to support our work. So I know people are listening and I know people are and governments are supportive of us.

The thing that does make me have sleepless nights is the fact that the resources that are required are growing because of the various crises around the world. And if we are going to start looking at being able to make a long-term difference to the sustainability of communities, we actually need to invest more at times like this and not scale back because we're frightened of the crisis we see.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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