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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

Food aid in emergencies

2.10 The share of food aid dedicated to saving lives in emergencies (both natural and man-made), has risen from 10 percent during the late 1970s to roughly 30 percent in the mid-1990s (Table 2). This represented an increase from less than 1 million tons per annum in the 1970s to between 3 and 4 million tons in 1994/95, with the sharpest rise apparent in the years since 1989/90. The proportion channelled to sub-Saharan Africa has grown from an average of 12 percent during the 1970s to 36 percent in 1994/95 (Table 1).
2.11 Food aid for emergencies is provided in a number of ways: (1) as a food reserve to be released onto the market when local food prices rise beyond a planned threshold; (2) as a ration provided to targeted households or communities to maintain at least minimum calorie consumption for during a crisis; (3) as a meal provided directly to most needy individuals, generally children, through a supplementary or rehabilitation feeding programme; or (4) as a wage good paid to participants in food-for-work projects that are initiated to provide an employment-based safety-net during times of food shortfall.
2.12 Each of these mechanisms has its niche according to prevailing conditions (prices, policies, degree of hunger, and institutional support). They are successful if they manage to sustain life, and more successful if they do so in a cost-effective manner. The shift from development towards relief carries cost implications, however. Since many emergencies occur in geographically remote regions of the world, the logistical hurdles in the way of rapid delivery of food aid are huge. Consequently, more cash is needed to deliver relief food than other forms of food aid. For example, it costs an average of around $2.20 to deliver $1.00 worth of food aid in an emergency, compared with 30 to 100 cents required to deliver the same amount of food to a development project.
2.13 Whatever the cost, food aid is never wasted if it saves lives. But it is unfortunate that more cannot be used to enhance those lives. It would be preferable to use food aid for purposes other than saving people from starvation. A bag of cereal used to keep a child alive in a refugee camp is a bag that could have been used to support a clinic or school-lunch programme, both aimed at long-term human development.