Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Rethinking food security in humanitarian response
16 April 2008 - 18 April 2008
Daniel Maxwell, Patrick Webb, Jennifer Coates and James Wirth


Only through investment in Somalia’s relief, development, and peace-building…will Somalia be able to become investment-sustaining and catalyze the fragile peace effort.
UN/DHA, May 1997

More than a quarter of the population of Somalia is in humanitarian crisis.
FSAU/Somalia, January 2008

On February 14, 2008, the BBC ran a story entitled “Somalia is ‘the forgotten crisis.’ ” How can that be? In the period between 2003 and 2006, Somalia received roughly US$1 billion in net disbursements of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), compared with only $161 million in 1995–96.1 It was the country in which the innovative Integrated Phase Classification tool was first developed by the Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU), aimed at enhancing objective analysis of the complex factors that link food and livelihood insecurity to humanitarian crises in ways that generate multiple agency agreement and synergistic action. It is a country that gained visibility as one of the most distantly affected by the Asian tsunami in 2005, and earned a degree of geopolitical significance in the global “war on terror” during 2006–07. Yet, in 2008, Somalia features prominently in the 2008 Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), with an estimated need for humanitarian aid amounting to $406 billion. Apparently, neither food insecurity nor humanitarian need have been effectively resolved in Somalia to date. Why not?

On the one hand, it could be that conditions have recently deteriorated—which is partly true, given the continued absence of stable governance, competing political agendas, armed conflict, and repeated natural shocks (droughts, floods, locusts). On the other hand, it could be that resources used in recent years have been inadequate to the task of resolving or at least mitigating such shocks, or the wrong kind of assistance was given, or aid was used in the wrong ways, or resources were spent very inefficiently—all of which may also be true.

So will the response to the current CAP or future years’ relief responses make any marked difference in either food security or humanitarian need? Indeed, will development aid more broadly improve the lives of people across the developing world in coming years? According to the OECD’s most recent Development Co-operation Report progress is being made in improving social as well as economic conditions around the globe, but far too slowly.2 Higher volumes of aid are helping some countries, but despite efforts by donor and recipient countries to “use aid more effectively” progress remains modest and in some cases, fragile. Again, the question is why?

This discussion paper serves as background to help frame discussion during the Food Security Forum in Rome. The content focuses primarily on policy and institutional issues relating to chronic and transitory crises (or high risk of these) and the reforms in policies and systems needed to better protect lives and livelihoods, manage the process of recovery, and reduce future risks and vulnerabilities that threaten food security. The paper has three separate themes, bundled together. The first part offers an overview of trends, projections and challenges in the realms of global food insecurity and humanitarian emergencies. The second part examines issues relating to effectiveness of the “humanitarian system” specifically in addressing food insecurity. The third part considers links among responses to “chronic” and “transitory” food insecurity. The purpose of the paper is not to provide a consensus statement on any of these topics, but rather to review evidence and pose a series of questions for discussion during the Food Security Forum on ways forward.

The issue of effectiveness of the humanitarian system is itself broken down into seven sections. Section 1 is an overview of the effectiveness question, and recent critiques of humanitarian action to protect food security. The second briefly reviews the kinds of crises that cause widespread food insecurity. The third covers interventions aimed at transitory and/or chronic food security. The fourth examines recent innovations and issues in food security analysis. The fifth sketches out the current “architecture” of the humanitarian response mechanisms to address food insecurity. The sixth examines on-going reform and change processes. And the final section reviews effectiveness of the “system,” drawing out questions for discussion at the Forum.

The theme dealing with linking “chronic” and “transitory” food insecurity is in four sections. The first is a framework for understanding the linkages. The second section examines approaches to social protection, while the third similarly examines approaches to disaster risk reduction. The fourth section assesses linkages–drawing out questions for discussion at the Food Security Forum.

A brief conclusions section summarizes major questions and gaps arising from the three parts of the paper. This includes gaps or questions regarding (1) analytical capacity and knowledge, (2) programmatic practice, and (3) food security policy.

  1. DAC/OECD (Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2008. Development Co-Operation Report 2007. Volume 9, No. 1. Paris.
  2. Ibid.

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