This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) for its "efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to 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 Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Friday.
The win draws attention to the organization at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis have increased the number of people at risk from starvation worldwide. At the same time, UN organizations including the WFP have experienced a dip in funding in recent years as countries, including the U.S., reduce the money they give to international bodies, CNN reported.
"With this year's award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger," committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said when she announced the prize.
The WFP was founded in 1961, according to CNN. In 2019, it provided food assistance to 97 million people in 88 countries, the most since 2012. It is also the primary UN body in charge of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating world hunger, the Nobel Committee pointed out, but that goal has gotten harder than ever to reach in recent years.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute director Dan Smith told CNN that the number of people experiencing hunger had begun to increase in the last four years after decades of decline, largely because of climate change.
The situation has gotten even worse because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nobel Committee noted. In countries like Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burkina Faso, the pandemic has combined with armed conflicts to put significantly more people at risk from starvation.
WFP head David Beasley told NPR earlier this year that 135 million people had been at risk for starvation in 2020 before the emergence of COVID-19. After its spread, that number had shot up to almost a quarter of a billion.
"In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts," the committee said. "As the organisation itself has stated, 'Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.'"
Beasley said he was "speechless" in the face of the award and credited the organization's staff for the win.
"It's because of the WFP family," Beasley said in a video shared on Twitter. "They're out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world. Whether it's war, conflict, climate extremes — it doesn't matter. They're out there, and they deserve this award."
We are deeply humbled to receive the #NobelPeacePrize. This is an incredible recognition of the dedication of the… https://t.co/bBFP4RGKJV— David Beasley (@David Beasley)1602238167.0
The prize was announced in Oslo and comes with an award of 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately $1.14 million), The Guardian reported. This year, there were 318 nominees for the prize, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. President Donald Trump.
When announcing the award, the committee praised the WFP for its role in "multilateral cooperation."
"The need for international solidarity and multilateral cooperation is more conspicuous than ever," the committee said in the opening line of the announcement.
Smith told CNN that he thought the committee had intentionally chosen an international organization over an individual at this time to highlight the importance of collaboration.
"Donald Trump is the embodiment of the spirit of anti-cooperation and by contrast the World Food Programme is the embodiment of the spirit of cooperation," Smith said. "And I think that the Nobel Peace Prize started its announcement with a reference to solidarity and multilateralism as a kind of gentle rebuke to the leaders of the great powers, including Donald Trump, obviously Putin and President Xi as well."
In her remarks to the press after the award, Reiss-Andersen also criticized the rise of populilst nationalism.
"When you follow international debate and discourse, it's definitely a tendency that international institutions seem to be discredited more than, let's say, 20 years ago," she said, as CNN reported. "It is part of populism that it has nationalistic flavor ... everybody, every nation, supporting their own interests."
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By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
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