NEW YORK — “Now is the time to roll up our sleeves because, you know, children can’t eat empty promises,” David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, told representatives of more than 150 nations assembled for the United Nations World Food Systems Summit in New York on Sept. 23. “It’s up to us to deliver and make food security and nutrition a reality.”

The World Food Programme, recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, is the world’s largest humanitarian organization. With a staff of 20,000 worldwide, the WFP currently works in 80 nations to bring food to people displaced by conflict or made destitute by disasters and help individuals and communities find life-changing solutions to challenges they face in building better futures. In any given year, WFP initiatives provide food for up to 80 million people.

The WFP is a strong partner to the United States in providing food assistance. According to a US Agency for International Development spokesperson, the US government provided nearly 1.56 million tonnes of US food commodities for in-kind donations to the hungry of more than 50 nations in fiscal 2020. Of this total, more than 1.13 million tonnes, or 73%, was delivered by the WFP.

Mr. Beasley, named executive director of the WFP in April 2017, formerly was a governor of South Carolina from 1995-1999.

“If we’re struggling today to reach the 7.7 billion people, imagine having 10, 11, 12 billion people on earth,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper to address root cause and give the people the resources they need to empower them, helping indigenous populations, empowering and inspiring the youth, all of this coming together to make this a stronger, a healthier, a better planet.”

Mr. Beasley said there is $400 trillion worth of wealth on the earth today, yet 9 million people die from hunger every year.

“Shame on us,” Mr. Beasley said. “At the height of COVID, billionaires’ net worth increase was $5.2 billion per day. At the same time 24,000 people die per day from hunger. Shame on us. Every hour the net worth of billionaires during the height of COVID was a substantial $216 million per hour. Yet 1,000 people per hour were dying from hunger… Shame on us.”

Mr. Beasley said his goal was to put the WFP out of business, ending the need for large-scale food assistance by addressing the root causes of world hunger.

“But how can we do that with the direction that we’re now going?” he asked.

“As Rome-based agencies (the WFP as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development all are headquartered in Rome), we’re not just leaders, we’re cheerleaders to empower the private sector, inspire those in civil society and individuals to make certain that we love our neighbor as our equal so that a child in Niger is just as important as a child in New York,” he said. “Imagine … children around the world dying unnecessarily. We’ve had 4.7 million people die from COVID.  At the same time, we had 16 million people die from hunger.”

Mr. Beasley exhorted, “You see we have the expertise. We have the dedication of the United Nations. I do believe that this call for action will be heard by leaders around the world.”