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close this bookTackling Hunger in a World Full of Food: Tasks Ahead for Food Aid (WFP)
close this folder2. The first goal of food aid: saving life
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe damage wrought by crises
View the documentFood aid in emergencies
View the documentRehabilitation and crisis prevention


2.1 The right to life is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Saving people whose ability to gain access to food has been curtailed is the first principle of humanitarian intervention. People have to survive before they can benefit from, and contribute to, sustainable development.

People must survive to contribute to development

2.2 Food is a fundamental resource for saving life. There are some emergency situations in which the provision of cash rather than food aid, or the monetization of food commodities to stabilize prices is warranted. This could be the case, for example, where localized crop failure leads to extreme hunger in the presence of marketable food in neighbouring regions (as in parts of Ethiopia during the 1980s). Yet, the number of emergencies in which this applies are relatively few, and in most cases hungry women and children, who make up 70 percent of the innocent victims of armed conflict, need direct food assistance.
2.3 The number of "complex emergencies" has grown sharply in recent years. In the mid-1990s, there were at least 50 serious armed conflicts ongoing in the world, with an increasing concentration of frequency and destructiveness in poorer developing countries (Sivard 1994; Hansch 1995). These crises are "complex" not so much in their manifestation of human suffering (which may differ little from suffering during other emergencies), but in their scale (often regional rather than national), and the complexity of their causes and potential resolutions, which often have political and military dimensions.

Acute hunger is increasingly found where there is political instability

2.4 The rise in "complex emergencies" has meant that acute hunger is increasingly found in the presence of political instability which compounds inadequate past investments, infrastructure deficiencies, rapid population growth and environmental limitations to increased productivity. All of this makes the task of tackling hunger more difficult. The compounding of constraints to the attainment of food security is all-too apparent in sub-Saharan Africa.
2.5 As conflict has taken over from drought as the primary cause of famine and human displacement, the numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and non-displaced but asset-stripped households has grown sharply, particularly in Africa. The total number of refugees has doubled approximately every 6 years since the mid-1970s. By 1994, the number had reached approximately 25 million, of whom roughly one third were found in Africa (UNHCR 1995; UNECOSOC 1995). In addition, the number of Internally Displaced Persons reached an estimated 25-30 million in 1995, as many as 60 percent of them in Africa (United Nations 1995c; UNHCR 1995). The global total of people uprooted by conflict or political disturbance has reached roughly 50 million-an average of 1 million people for every conflict.
2.6 What is more, the impact of hunger due to conflict and population displacement is not limited to the individuals involved. Host communities, typically as poor as the poor coming to them for help, are drawn into the dislocation. The hosts are affected as commodity prices rise, labour markets are affected, local or national development activities are curtailed, and widespread natural resource damage results from new concentrations of displaced people needing land and fuel to survive. The recent growth in numbers of refugees and displaced people shows no signs of abating, and is the least responsive to progress made in the realms of food production or distribution. The solution to large-scale population displacements is typically political rather than simply economic or environmental.