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8 October 2010

FAO/WFP: The State of Food Insecurity in the World – Addressing food insecurity in protracted crisis

According to a joint report on world food insecurity produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), 22 countries are facing enormous challenges – such as repeated food crises and an extremely high prevalence of hunger due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict, and weak institutions. Furthermore, these countries are in what is termed a “protracted crisis” of chronic hunger and food insecurity.

State of Food Insecurity in the World: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises finds that more than 166 million undernourished people live in countries in protracted crises, roughly 20% of the world’s undernourished people, or more than a third of the total if large countries like China and India are excluded from the calculation.

Countries considered as being in a protracted crisis are those reporting a food crisis for eight years or more, receive more than 10% of foreign assistance as humanitarian relief, and be on the list of Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries.

Globally, around 10% of total official development assistance (ODA) is in the form of humanitarian assistance, while in protracted crisis countries, the share is much higher. In Somalia, for example, 64% of assistance is in the form of humanitarian aid and in the Sudan it is 62%. At the global level these countries receive close to 60% of the total humanitarian assistance.

“Faced with so many obstacles, it is little wonder that protracted crises can become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle,” said the foreword to the SOFI report, signed jointly by FAO Director General Jacques Diouf and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. FAO and WFP are calling for a significant rethinking of how assistance is delivered to countries in protracted crises. Official assistance needs to refocus attention on longer-term solutions by aiming to achieve sustained improvements in the productive capacity of vulnerable countries and strengthening their resilience to shocks, while continuing to support life saving and livelihoods protection activities.

The report finds that nearly two-thirds of countries in protracted crises receive less development assistance per person than the average for least-developed countries. More importantly, agriculture receives just 3% - 4% of development and humanitarian assistance funds even though it accounts for around one-third of their gross domestic product and is the main source of food and income for nearly two-thirds of their population.

“Protracted crises call for specially designed and targeted assistance,” Mr. Diouf and Ms. Sheeran wrote in their foreword. “There is an urgent need for assistance in protracted crises to protect livelihoods as well as lives, because this will help put the country on a constructive path to recovery.” Furthermore, “Lessons from the experience of many countries show that building longer-term assistance activities in the framework of existing or revitalized local institutions offers the best hope of long-term sustainability and real improvement of food security. Social protection mechanisms, such as school meals, cash and food-for-work activities and vouchers can make a vital difference in the long term,” they urge.

Other highly effective measures include stimulating markets through purchase of food aid supplies on local markets or through cash-based schemes.

Key Messages:

The number and the proportion of undernourished people have declined, but they remain unacceptably high. Undernourishment remains higher than before the food and economic crises, making it ever more difficult to achieve international hunger targets.

Countries in protracted crisis require special attention. They are characterized by long-lasting or recurring crises and limited capacity to respond, exacerbating food insecurity problems.

Improving food security in protracted crises requires going beyond short-term responses in order to protect and promote people’s livelihoods over the longer term. Appropriate responses must also recognize the different impacts of protracted crises on men and women.

Supporting institutions is key to addressing protracted crises. Local institutions, in particular, can help address food security problems in protracted crises, but they are often ignored by external actors.

Agriculture and the rural economy are key sectors for supporting livelihoods in protracted crises, but they are not properly reflected in aid flows. While agriculture accounts for a third of national income in countries in protracted crisis, the sector receives only 4% of humanitarian aid and 3% of development aid.

The current aid architecture needs to be modified to better address both immediate needs and the structural causes of protracted crises. Important areas of intervention (including social protection and risk reduction) are often underfunded.

Food assistance helps build the basis for long-term food security, and is particularly important in countries in protracted crisis. The use of a varied set of food assistance tools, complemented by innovations in how food is procured, will serve as a strong basis for food security in the longer term.

Broader social protection measures help countries cope with protracted crises and lay the foundation for long-term recovery. Key interventions include providing safety nets, insurance when appropriate, and services such as health and education.

Earlier in October, FAO announced that 925 million people in the world live in chronic hunger, down 98 million from 1.020 billion in 2009. The decline was primarily attributable to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008.

Findings of the hunger report will be discussed by members of the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome (11-16 October 2010).

Click here for more information on the SOFI report.

Click here for the full report.

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