....the longer-term prevention of famine through development that
guarantees sustainable livelihood protection (including drought-resilient farming
patterns), reasonable buffers against destitution, and strong community-based coping
1. Emergency aid is an international response to instances of concentrated, acute
hunger. There is no time to lose in such situations. Hungry children die or may suffer
permanent mental and physical damage; they become disadvantaged adults, the victims of
future emergencies. Emergency interventions to feed today's hungry children cannot be
deferred to tomorrow.
2. However, relief activities are not the solution to hunger. The only sure way to
eradicate hunger is to ensure developmental investments among the poor. Even the best
emergency response (well designed, fully funded, and appropriately implemented), treats
the symptom rather than the cause, unless it is carefully linked to more than short-term
objectives. Hunger is a development issue, not a humanitarian concern. The conceptual wall
between relief and development must be breached.
3. On the one hand, hunger goes beyond the problem of food availability. It relates to
income-earning, market accessibility, and the social structures that affect the
entitlements of the poor. Starvation can, and does, occur when food is still in the market
-- times of plenty do not rule out famine 1/. Most humanitarian
crises should be seen as human in origin. Responsibility for their occurrence cannot be
evaded by those who in most cases, could have prevented these crises through appropriate,
early intervention. This includes local community leaders, civil society, and the national
governments most involved, as well as international donor agencies.
4. On the other hand, development investments cannot be sustained in the context of
major emergencies, whose costs (triggered either by natural agency or by human conflict)
are enormous however they are measured. First, the volume and relative share of resources
used in humanitarian assistance, in peace-keeping, and in economic and social
rehabilitation is increasing dramatically just as ODA flows are declining. Second, the
human, productivity, and opportunity costs of humanitarian emergencies to the people and
to the governments most involved are overwhelming. Finally, past gains in development are
being eroded or destroyed by large-scale emergencies.
5. A concerted effort is needed to address acute hunger as a mainstream development
problem. Only then will it be possible to attack the root causes of hunger, and from
there, poverty. This calls for a partnership not only to tackle existing acute hunger, but
to prevent future humanitarian crises.
The Scale and Nature of Emergencies
6. Hunger concerns not only food, but rather the inability of poor people to gain
access to sufficient quantities. While the international community has become increasingly
effective in its handling of emergencies, this has not led to a decline in the scale of
the problem. On the contrary, the need for emergency aid continues to grow and to outweigh
the supply of assistance from all sources.
7. The number of people affected during humanitarian disasters has grown sharply in
recent years. In the mid-eighties, fewer than 50 million were in need of assistance in the
context of shorter-term emergencies 2/. By 1994, the number of
people living in countries that faced severe food shortages was an estimated 272 million 3/. The latter figure includes an increasingly large category of refugees
and internally displaced people (IDPs). Since the mid-seventies, the number of refugees
has doubled approximately every 6 years, reaching a total of roughly 20 million in 1995 4/. In addition, the number of IDPs reached an estimated 30 million in
8. As a result of the increasing numbers of people involved in emergencies, the share
of international resources dedicated to meeting humanitarian objectives has been rising
precipitously, sometimes at the expense of resources previously allocated to longer-term
development goals. For example, cash disbursements in favour of humanitarian interventions
from OECD countries (excluding food aid) expanded from USD 809 million in 1989 to USD 3.2
billion in 1993 6/. Over the same five-year period, total food aid
(both cereal and non-cereal) allocated to emergency operations rose from 2.4 million to
4.5 million metric tons 7/.
9. Part of the explanation for recent growth in demand for assistance and its cost is
that the nature of many emergencies has been changing, from largely drought-based to
conflict-driven, along with their scale -- from single-country to larger regional crises.
10. Many governments, international agencies, and non-governmental organizations have
responded to this growing problem of humanitarian need by placing greater emphasis on
goals of food security linked to broad-based economic growth. Progress has been
made in a number of countries, but attention to the fundamentals is still lacking. More
focus is needed on better ways of alleviating immediate hunger among the poor, and on
preventing poverty from evolving into acute hunger and famine.
Preventing Humanitarian Crises
11. "The hungry" is a concept to be qualified: it comprises hungry farmers,
labourers, lactating women, herders, and children of the unemployed. There are specific
reasons for their hunger, reasons to be taken into account in moving beyond short-term
emergency interventions. If it is understood that hunger is a multi-faceted problem (not
just one of food), then the solutions are more complex than the shipment of sufficient
food from one country to another. Relief assistance alone cannot not strengthen the
capacity of poor people to cope with the next emergency. If the most vulnerable people do
not gain access to the long-term entitlements and capacities that permit them to avoid
hunger the need for relief aid will not decrease. Longer-term and better targeted relief
assistance is an important, but short-term, means of access. The links between a lack of
development and the causes and effects of humanitarian emergencies are strong 8/.
12. Actions are required on multiple fronts to cement the links between relief and
development, and between the hungry individual and the well-fed international community.
At the forefront of such actions is the need to put adequate resources into crisis
prevention rather than cure. This will rest on the removal of food insecurity and
personal insecurity among vulnerable households. This must be a central pillar of
development. The failure of governments, donors, and civil society to allocate appropriate
resources towards sustainable poverty alleviation is largely to blame for the continued
resurgence of humanitarian crises.
13. Appropriate actions, including those to be taken by vulnerable households
themselves, require much time and money. As manifestations of collective failure,
humanitarian emergencies have complex origins that require complex answers. The search for
universal solutions to hunger is inappropriate. There is no easy or inexpensive solution.
14. The problems have been described. There are accepted principles and increasing
knowledge of the basic steps required to prevent crises from becoming unmanageable. The
first principle is participatory and effective governance. This does not infer a
particular political dogma or procedure. Rather it implies: 1) an efficient use, that is
accountable, of resources at all levels of government; 2) an allocation of resources in a
transparently non-discriminatory fashion in regional and ethnic terms (which would address
many concerns that lead to civil conflict); 3) participatory planning and control of
resources at a decentralized, local level; and 4) the maintenance of a policy and economic
growth environment that encourages participation in development by all of civil society,
including the very poor.
15. It should be underlined that effective participatory governance would probably
facilitate an expansion of the many activities already undertaken by civil society
in support of the poor. For example, most organized religions and many more secular bodies
pursue activities of a charitable nature, not only during crises but aimed at longer-term
development. The work of Mekane Yesus Orthodox Church in Ethiopia during and after the
famines of the eighties is one example and the rural development work of the Aga Khan
foundation in poor areas of northern Pakistan is another.
16. The second requirement is sustained equitable economic growth. In most
developing countries there is little question that policies for enhancing economic growth,
particularly in stable agricultural productivity, must provide the bedrock for future
development. Smallholder agricultural development addresses hunger not only through its
potential to increase production, but also by increasing rural employment opportunities
and therefore income. The adoption of improved technology is one of the keys to long-term
crisis prevention, particularly drought. However, technology choices must be such that
they diminish risk and ensure gainful employment.
17. Improved seed, fertilizer, plough and irrigation machinery, storage, communications
technology, and pesticides can only benefit the poor directly if they are available at
affordable prices (assessment of the impact of an ongoing globalization of product and
factor markets is relevant in this regard), and if natural resource and other tenure
policies permit them to gain from returns to investment in their own productivity.
Similarly, education and training systems must be adequately resourced and equitably
distributed if enhanced technologies are to play a role in assisting the poor. More
attention must be given to collaborating with poor smallholders and herders (including
pastoralists) to improve on-farm operations, management of common property resources, the
engagement of the poor in non-farm activities, and ensuring a rational development of
rural systems of communications, stockholding, and trade. Risk, particularly of
environmental and/or economic shocks, is a fact of life for the poor, and such risk needs
to be squarely addressed in the design of all policy and project interventions that affect
them. Disaster prevention/mitigation needs to be taken explicitly into account in the
design of projects aimed at longer-term development.
18. The third basis for preventing crises is investment in the human capital of the
poor. Most agricultural investment pays only low dividends in the arid and semi-arid
regions of the world in which many of the poor are located. In Sub-Saharan Africa it has
been estimated that as much as 57 percent of the rural poor are found in such regions 9/. While defensive production and storage strategies should be elaborated
in consultation with grassroots organizations in these areas (helping the poor do better
what they already do well), there may be relatively higher social returns to investment in
the poor themselves rather than in their environment. Human capital investment can yield
important benefits in support of a more sustainable overall development process, including
reduced population pressure on fragile resources due to fertility rate decline.
19. The fourth requirement is good preparedness against emergencies. While
investment in growth is essential, there is no simple market-based solution waiting to be
tapped by the tens of millions of most vulnerable households. The numerous political,
climatic, and military upheavals affecting many developing countries during the eighties
have contributed to a widespread depletion of household assets and savings, declining
labour productivity linked to the erosion of natural and human resources, and a continued
reluctance among farmers to invest in land productivity enhancement. As a result,
vulnerable households are unable to respond to improved market incentives in the short
20. There are two main reasons for this. First, they do not have the resources (or
credit) to grow more food even if they wanted to sell a surplus on the market. Oxen,
seeds, hired labour, tools, sacks and carts all require capital which remains in short
supply in rural areas. Second, transport and the marketing infrastructure required for the
smooth flow of food, capital, and labour around the country are still absent. The costs of
rapidly increasing food production are rising almost as fast as the heralded benefits.
Consequently, even with growth apparent in the overall economy the chronically poor will
remain vulnerable to climatic or economic shocks for many years to come.
21. Good preparedness has three principal components. First, the capability to record
and detect possible emergencies and alert appropriate institutions of the danger. Second,
the proactive design of explicit targeting strategies to cover population groups most at
risk. Third, the development of local institutional capacity to organize effective
responses to crisis alerts, supported where necessary by external resources.
22. On the part of national government, the three functions may be best formalized
through legislation that clearly defines specific areas of central and local government
responsibility. Such legislation needs to support a strong political, financial, and
technical empowerment of local government structures. Many countries need to invest more
in the collection and analysis of information at local levels, in many cases through NGOs
and other local institutions. The circulation of timely and accurate information about
problems prevents reluctant governments from ignoring such problems.
23. A further development needed in early warning is its link to early response.
Improvements in early warning have limited value if they are not unequivocally tied to
timely response that is based on previously prepared technical and economic appraisals of
potential interventions. Inter-ministerial coordination that defines lines of
responsibility and funding before a crisis has been reached is essential.
24. For example, Ethiopia recently approved a National Disaster Prevention and
Mitigation Strategy which establishes structured guidelines for institutional
collaboration and interaction aimed at more effective famine mitigation. Zimbabwe
established an inter-ministerial Drought Task Force during the eighties, already in place
when drought struck in the early nineties. The Botswana Government's ability to respond
quickly to droughts is due to good bottom-up communication between local Rural Development
Councils and relevant ministries. However weak at the outset, such institutions are focal
points for coordinated early warning of, and government responses to, famine. Countries
without such institutional coordination fall prey to ad hoc responses that cannot maximize
the potential of scarce resources for emergency intervention.
25. Much has been learned during the eighties and early nineties about the needs of
affected households and how to reach them more quickly. The stabilization of food
entitlements for poor households in crisis-prone areas remains a top intervention
priority. However, evidence suggests that food resources alone have a limited impact, even
for crisis mitigation. Improved crisis prevention and response, aimed at minimizing human
and capital asset loss, need to be based on the following:
i) A combination of food and non-food resources that reduces income and productivity
constraints while dealing with the primary need of hunger alleviation. There are many ways
of delivering resources to those who need them. The most appropriate mechanisms for rapid
support of the needy in varying geographical contexts (without exacerbating existing
tensions or conflict) should be prepared well in advance of the next emergency, not in
response to it;
ii) Participatory planning of interventions is essential, aimed at improved targeting
and communication between managers and relief beneficiaries and a strengthening of
community-based coping mechanisms. Many indigenous strategies that have evolved over time
to help households and communities cope with disasters come under pressure as a result of
ongoing processes of social, political, environmental, and economic change. Means should
be sought to strengthen community-based mechanisms for averting or coping with
emergencies. Many grassroots organizations are already active in this field and could
themselves be supported in their efforts;
iii) Decentralized supervision of intervention activities is also required. The
potential for expanding past grassroots relief activities of local non-governmental
organizations should be explored with a view to improved participatory planning and
targeting. At community level, guidelines or structures for identifying the most needy can
be of great help in more efficient and equitable targeting of both development and relief
resources. Local and international non-governmental organizations often play a
constructive mediating role in such community initiatives. For example, relatively
efficient community-level screening of recipients served to ensure that few people
succumbed to starvation in Zimbabwe during the 1991/92 drought. Similarly, Ethiopia's
example in establishing a broad, community-focused Employment-Based Safety Net (drawing on
experiences of the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme), has been commended.
iv) Stability. Political stability, economic stability, and community-based preventive
development that embraces the poor are mutually reinforcing; they must be nurtured
simultaneously. Prevention requires initiatives that support not only sustainable economic
growth, but stable, non-discriminatory governance, participation of the poor in all
aspects of the development process, and, importantly, effective conflict resolution and
prevention--the root causes of humanitarian crises will not be resolved by project
interventions alone. In this era of conflict proliferation, the creation and strengthening
of more creative and effective mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflicts is
crucial, at national as well as international levels. To this end, the roles of civil
society and public organizations in conflict warning and prevention need to be better
26. Ultimate responsibility for growing out of poverty and hunger lies with communities
and households themselves. However, the role of the Public Sector remains crucial.
Governments of Developing Countries, donors, and civil society share responsibility for
investing against the threat of future emergencies. This requires an integration of
activities that strengthen crisis prevention wherever possible. International assistance,
including project interventions, should ensure that improved household food security is a
high priority on any list of goals. This would demand: a) an increase in ODA flows to
poorest regions and poorest people; b) a renewed focus on human capital development,
particularly among women (major food producers, most numerous victims of civil conflict,
and the key players in planned population growth); and c) initiatives to strengthen
disaster preparedness through vulnerability mapping, early warning systems, and local
institutional development. These initiatives would allow for better identification of
populations and areas most at risk, leading to improved preinvestment in conflict and
disaster prevention, and better planning for appropriate responses to food crises among
27. Emergency assistance resources, even if they continue to grow, will not on their
own be able to adequately treat, let alone remedy, the scale of humanitarian needs likely
in coming years, and humanitarian problems will not be suitably addressed with financial
resources alone. While structural food deficits, weak market infrastructure, inappropriate
economic and social policies, and armed conflict continue to cripple or delay growth in
many countries there will be a call for emergency humanitarian interventions.
28. However, humanitarian interventions of the future should not just be "more of
the same". New strategic policies and interventions are needed to address future
hunger in its many manifestations. There will be a continued need to bring adequate food
directly to the mouths of hungry individuals. Such actions need to be better supported by
initiatives that effectively channel both food and non-food resources to the very poor
before and after crises in order to lay the groundwork for equitable economic growth in
which the poorest people and resource-constrained regions can participate. Coordinated
efforts will be needed to bring greater technical skills and financial resources to play
in combination with food so that the positive impact of each can be maximized. The world's
major donor nations must make the alleviation of mass hunger, in times of peace as
well as in times of crisis, an explicit and urgent priority. Only then will hunger be
effectively confronted, liberating resources provided for emergencies and using them for
1 / Sen, Amartya. 1981. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.
Oxford; Clarendon Press.
2 / IFRCRCS (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). 1995.
World Disasters Report 1995. Geneva.
3 / FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 1994. Foodcrops and
Food Shortages. Various issues. Rome; FAO.
Uvin, P. The State of World Hunger., in Messer E. and Uvin P. The Hunger Report 1995.
New York; Gordon & Breach, 1995.
Uvin notes that these figures do not mean that all people in these countries
suffered from famine, but only that they lived in countries affected by exceptional food
shortage, where, if no special measures are taken by governments and international aid
agencies, famine can and does occur. The number of people actually starving in these
countries was certainly much lower.
4 / ACC/SCN (United Nations Administrative Committee on Coordination--Sub-Committee on
Nutrition). 1994. Update on the World Nutrition Situation, 1994. Geneva; ACC/SCN/IFPRI.;
USCR (United States Committee for Refugees). 1995. World Refugee Survey 1995. Washington,
5 / UNSG (United Nations Secretary-General). 1995. Supplement to an Agenda for Peace:
Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the
United Nations. Document A/50/60/S/1995/1. Presented to the Fiftieth Session of the
General Assembly. New York.
6 / IFRCRCS (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). 1995.
World Disasters Report 1995. Geneva.
7 / WFP (World Food Programme). 1995. The Food Aid Monitor: World Food Aid Flows.
(INTERFAIS). June 1995. Rome; WFP.
8 / Webb, Patrick and Joachim von Braun, 1994. Famine and Food Security in Ethiopia:
Lessons for Africa. London: John Wiley.
9 / Broca, Sumiter and Peter Oram. 1991. Study on the location of the poor. Washington,
D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute. Mimeo.
Discussion Paper 1: Empowerment of the poor
Discussion Paper 2: Enhancing technology generation and diffusion
Discussion Paper 3: Combating environmental degradation
Discussion Paper 4: Preventing disaster and reducing its impact on
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