UN urges solutions to help countries with protracted food crises recover

6 October 2010

Natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions have thrust 22 countries into recurring food crises and high prevalence of hunger, two United Nations agencies said today in a report on food insecurity around the world, calling for longer-term solutions to help those States recover their productive capacity.

Chronic hunger and food insecurity is the most common characteristic of a protracted crisis, according to the report, the “State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010,” published jointly by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

On average, the proportion of people who are undernourished in countries facing these complex problems is almost three times as high as in other developing countries, according to the report.

More than 166 million undernourished people live in countries in protracted crises, roughly 20 per cent 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, the report said.

A large share of the aid flows into these countries is in the form of emergency humanitarian food assistance that not only helps to save lives, but also provides an investment in a country’s future, preserving and strengthening the human assets and livelihoods that are the foundation of future stability and development.

When used with other tools such as cash or vouchers, and support for local purchase of agricultural produce, this maximises the chance that humanitarian food assistance will serve as a strong basis for achieving food security in the longer term.

Earlier this month, FAO revealed that 925 million people in the world live in chronic hunger, down 98 million from over 1 billion in 2009. The decline was primarily attributed to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008.

“Faced with so many obstacles, it is little wonder that protracted crises can become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle,” FAO Director General Jacques Diouf and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in the report’s preface.

“They [crises] represent ongoing and fundamental threats to both lives and livelihoods, from which recovery may become progressively more difficult over time,” the two senior UN officials said.

For the first time, FAO and WFP offer a clear definition of a protracted crisis that will help improve aid interventions.

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

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

FAO and WFP called 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, whilst continuing to support life saving and livelihoods protection activities.

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 three to four per cent of development and humanitarian assistance funds even though it accounts for around a 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. “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.”


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