UH Hilo alum is senior staff at organization awarded 2020 Nobel Peace Prize

Colin Hourihan joined the UN in 2008 and now heads the World Food Programme’s Humanitarian Military Interaction Unit for the Emergency Operations Division in Rome.

By Susan Enright

Hourihan sits on ground with group of Afghan men seated in a semicircle in an orchard.
UH Hilo alumnus Colin Hourihan (at left) in Herat, NW Afghanistan, for group discussions with local displaced populations regarding basic needs in 2009. Click to enlarge. Courtesy photos.
Colin Hourihan
Colin Hourihan

An alumnus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is a senior staff member at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), a humanitarian organization that recently received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize 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.”

Colin Hourihan joined the UN in 2008 and now heads WFP’s Humanitarian Military Interaction Unit for the Emergency Operations Division in Rome. Last year, the COVID-19 crisis contributed greatly to hunger around the world, and the WFP moved critical medical supplies to those in need during the early days of the pandemic.

“A team of about 100 of us worked tirelessly to make sure that those most vulnerable didn’t succumb to the virus or the knock on effects the pandemic caused,” Hourihan says in an email. “We are now scaling up our work to feed more people than ever before in what is likely the largest humanitarian crisis since [World War II].”

Prior to his work with the United Nations, Hourihan worked with the Non-Violent Peaceforce in Romania and the Institute for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding in Austria.

“I feel most rewarded for my work when I am deployed to an emergency operation,” he says in a 2015 interview. “When you can see physical changes in people’s lives, it is a very powerful motivator. This feeling is even more overwhelming when you can actually link your work to life-saving activities in crisis-affected communities.”

During his time at UH Hilo, Hourihan earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on international relations and affairs. In 2015, he returned to the UH Hilo campus to headline two lectures about his experience with WFP’s emergency response.

In a March 10 interview with the Greenbelt News Review, Hourihan spoke from his base in Rome saying that he grew up in a home where there was a commitment to a better world. His father, John J. Hourihan, an anthropologist, taught at Maryland, George Washington, and Howard universities before moving to USAID.  “My father passed away the day after we received the prize,” says Hourihan in the interview. “I will always be thankful I got to share that moment with him.”

Hourihan’s mother, Christine Ellen Roach, works providing social safety net services for foster children and veterans on Hawai‘i Island.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded WFP the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2020.

Read post at UH System News.

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Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.