Message to Hiroshima Summit: Naoe Yakiya, WFP director, hopes summit serves as venue for solidarity in addressing hunger

by Yoko Yamamoto, Staff Writer

Naoe Yakiya, 49, director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Japan Relations Office who is originally from Hiroshima’s Nishi Ward, used to ask herself how she could contribute to world peace when she was in her teens, later jumping into the field of international food aid for hunger-stricken areas around the world. With respect to the summit meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven industrialized nations), held in her hometown of Hiroshima, she said, “Resolving the issue of hunger constitutes the foundation for peace. I hope the Japanese government will create a roadmap for world solidarity at the summit to strengthen support and action for people suffering from hunger.”

The problem of global hunger has now reached an unprecedented situation. Climate change, conflict, surging food prices, and the coronavirus pandemic have increasingly exacerbated an already bleak situation. Added to that was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some 349 million people are now suffering from a serious level of hunger. That number has increased by 200 million compared to the pre-pandemic period, leading to the worst situation the world has ever faced.

The number of people facing famine, the most serious category of hunger, is now ten times more than the number from five years ago. As some estimates show harvests will decline significantly this year because of high fertilizer prices, we are deeply concerned.

WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its contribution to peace-building through food aid. Ms. Yakiya has been directly engaged in providing emergency aid for Sierra Leone, a country that suffered an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and other conflict-affected areas. She also works on development of a system for school-provided lunches in areas of poverty, with the aim of achieving a hunger-free world.

About 60 percent of hungry people are densely populated in conflict areas around the world. When I helped provide aid to Sri Lanka in the midst of its conflict, I learned firsthand how food aid could play a crucial role in regional stabilization, because I saw how conditions of hunger had disturbed the power balance among ethnic groups, which resulted in a deepening of conflict. Peace and issues of hunger are closely linked.

As a first step for world peace, I hope the Japanese government will take the lead at the Hiroshima Summit for reaching agreement among nations to ensure international solidarity based on which the international community can provide aid for those suffering from hunger and act to develop comprehensive solutions to the problem. Such an agreement would serve to promote financial and political support for UN and civic activities.

However, the sharp rise in energy and food prices prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is forcing public opinion in each nation to become more inward-looking.

Obviously, it is important to address such domestic issues as energy supply. But at the same time, global issues cannot be resolved unless the world comes together. Hunger is not someone else’s problem. Ultimately, it will reach and affect all of our lives. For example, if the world has fewer agricultural producers due to starvation or conflict, global agricultural supplies will decrease. It is not an either-or choice in terms of prioritizing one’s own nation or providing international aid.

While Japan has not provided international support in the form of military force, Ms. Yakiya believes the country must contribute to addressing global issues such as hunger by gaining trust from diverse countries and regions.

For the elimination of nuclear weapons, it is essential to gain cooperation from various nations and regions. The current framework of international aid is no longer a structure in which the ‘haves’ provide for the ‘have-nots.’ I would like to consider the framework of international aid as a form of world solidarity to provide for each other and resolve global problems together. I believe the Hiroshima Summit will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Japan to demonstrate its leadership in that regard.


Naoe Yakiya
Born in 1973, Naoe Yakiya graduated from the International Christian University College of Liberal Arts after going to Hiroshima Jogakuin Girls’ Junior and Senior High School. Ms. Yakiya went on to receive a master’s degree in international relations at the Australian National University. After having been engaged in humanitarian assistance in Iraq, Kosovo, and elsewhere, she began to work as a liaison officer at WFP headquarters in Rome in 2001. Having served in several posts such as vice director of WFP’s offices in Sierra Leone and Myanmar, she arrived at her current position in June 2017.

(Originally published on January 31, 2023)