Food for thought on WFP's Nobel prize
15 October 2020
ROME - For thousands of World Food Programme employees working in conflict and disaster zones around the world, the award of a Nobel peace prize to the UN agency was a well-deserved boost to morale.
The WFP has long prided itself on its American-style of efficient management compared to what critics say is the Italian style management at its sister agency, the Food and Agriculture Agency, which has come under fire repeatedly for spending too much money administering itself and making appointments too often out of cronyism rather than on merit.
Nobody can deny that the WFP does an invaluable job. Nevertheless all is not perfect at its sprawling headquarters in the Eternal City. The anti-child abuse aid charity Hear their Cries has termed the Nobel award a ‘slap in the face’ to abuse victims.
The UN agency was at the centre of a “food for sex” scandal in the early 2000s, where aid workers allegedly offered food in exchange for sexual favours to those seeking emergency aid.
In 2019 an WFP internal survey, disclosed by The Italian Insider, revealed as many as 28 female staffers had been subject to “rape, attempted rape or other sexual assault.”
WFP Executive DIrector David Beasley has pledged “zero tolerance” and vowed to crack down on sexual abuse, but the allegations continue, most recently in Uganda, where a whistle-blower last month alleged UN staff demanded sex from local women in exchange for food and hired sex workers, brought onto the UN compound in Moroto.
Also causing concern among WFP-watchers are the activities of recent recruits to the agency from the religious right in the USA. In Sudan their influence allegedly led to a WFP helicopter being made available to a rebel leader for transport and alleged meddling in Sudanese politics to foster secularisation.
The WFP has come to be seen as an American fiefdom by Washington. But European and other influential donors may seek to end the U.S. monopoly on managing the world’s largest humanitarian agency if managers in the field stray from the agency’s poverty-busting mandate.