Campus and Community

2020 Nobel Peace Prize: The Técnico alumnus who works every day towards zero hunger

“Hunger is used as a weapon,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, during the announcement of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The Nobel Peace Prize recognises the international solidarity of this humanitarian organisation, considered “more necessary than ever”. “With this year’s award, the committee wishes to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger”, said Berit Reiss-Andersen.

The organisation highlighted “this prize is a humbling, moving recognition of the work of WFP staff who lay their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance for close to 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world”. Two Técnico alumnus are part of WFP: Pedro Matos and Pedro Valentim. Pedro Matos is a WFP Emergency Coordinator and shares his experience.

Nobel Peace Prize recalls the importance of multilateral cooperation

The list of nominees for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize comprised 211 people and 107 organisations. Many people, including Pedro Matos, considered the World Health Organization (WHO) and Greta Thunberg potential winners. “We feed 100 million people every day, we are a very large organisation, but most people have no idea of the dimension of our and many people don’t even know that we exist,” he says. “For example, we set up the logistics for all humanitarian organisations, in order to respond to covid-19 when most aircraft were on ground; we managed to have almost a parallel airline company to bring humanitarians and medical protection equipment worldwide,” explains the alumnus.

“We would prefer that the world genuinely concentrated on the reasons that lead people to conflict and hunger. Problems such as climate change that tends to push people to migration, crime, extremism or inter-ethnic conflict”, he stresses. “We want to alert the public for these causes and this Nobel Prize will allow us to do that”, points out the Técnico alumnus.

Pedro Matos hopes that this award will also contribute “to a better understanding of WFP’s work and how it fits into the larger structure of the United Nations”. “I would like that citizens’ awareness could influence the European governments to be more supportive of other less favoured countries”, he stresses. The Técnico alumnus also hopes that the prize will contribute to a “more pluralist vision and multilateral cooperation”.

According to the UN, 690 million people (about 8.9% of the world population) are hungry. Due to the economic impact of the crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the UN estimates that more than 130 million people are at risk of joining this group during 2020. “The number of people facing acute food insecurity has increased a lot due to the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic”, explains Pedro Matos, who is currently in Sudan. “Inflation in Sudan reached 170%, prices are 50% more expensive than a year ago and six times higher than 5 years ago,” says the alumnus. “The loss of purchasing power means that people are often unable to afford healthy diets”, he adds.

From engineering to humanitarian aid

The Territory Engineering alumnus is working at WFP for 12 years. He has worked in Yemen, Mali, Kenya, Uganda and Bangladesh. He is truly passionate about what he does, he has felt his life at risk several times, but the decisions that force him to risk the survival of others are the most difficult challenges, for example, when he has to decide between providing air resources for rescue or distribute food. “My job is to look at vulnerability assessments, design the best response, taking into account the circumstances, and organise the distribution of food or money in each country,” he explains. “I think that my engineering course helped me a lot because all problems can be broken down into smaller problems, solve each one individually and then join them like we do with Lego pieces”, he says.

In 2019, WFP helped 97 million people

Created in 1961, the World Food Programme is a UN agency based in Rome (Italy). It is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world and assists 97 million people in 88 countries.

The agency has acted in several global emergencies. Last year, the WFP assisted 97 million people in 88 countries.

On any given day, WFP has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need.

WFP aims to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, in order to achieve food security and improved nutrition. To this end, WFP is involved in a number of projects, including those aimed at strengthening food supply chains, local markets and climate risk management.

Governments are the principal source of funding for WFP. USA, Germany and the United Kingdom are the largest donors. There are also several companies and individual patrons that make a vital contribution to this mission.