The report “World Food Assistance 2017: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead”, published by the World Food Programme, considers the measures pursued by national, regional and international actors to respond to, prepare for and prevent food crises. In 2017 alone, such crises have made 108 million people world-wide severely food-insecure. The authors of the report aim to build understanding about the scale, reach and composition of these "food assistance" measures over time and space, the current and emerging challenges and opportunities facing food assistance providers and participants and options for policy-making and investment to boost the relevance and impact of food assistance under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The report addresses three questions:
1. What are the levels, trends and patterns of food assistance at global, regional and national levels?
2. What are the primary challenges facing design and delivery of food assistance in different contexts of food system functioning?
3. How are these challenges being met? That is, what kinds of innovations in food assistance are being developed to address the challenges?
Costs have risen enormously
The report also highlights the huge costs that are linked to poor humanitarian access, instability and inefficient food systems at a time of skyrocketing humanitarian needs amid multiple complex emergencies across the globe. As an example, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest international food assistance agency, has seen its costs spike by more than 140 per cent over a seven-year period, from 2.2 billion US dollars (USD) in 2009 to 5.3 billion USD in 2015. Two regions home to massive and complex food emergencies – East and Central Africa and the Middle East and North Africa – account for a staggering 70 per cent of WFP expenditure.
According to the report, improved humanitarian access could reduce costs to WFP by almost one billion USD each year. If the roughly 80 countries where WFP operates were better able to cope with climate-related, political, and economic shocks, another 2.2 billion USD could be saved each year. And if food systems – the networks responsible for producing food, transforming it and ensuring that it reaches hungry people – could be improved in these countries, another 440 million USD could be saved annually. If solutions or improvements to these challenges were found, cost savings to WFP could be as high as 3.5 billion USD per year.
A plea to end wars and conflicts
“More than anything else, the world needs to wake up, and end these wars and these conflicts, so we can make real progress in ending hunger,” said David Beasley, WFP Executive Director. “Around 800 million people – one in nine around the world – go to bed on an empty stomach. But man-made conflicts and other strife make it difficult to help those who need it most. Reducing these roadblocks would ease the path towards long-term solutions.”
The international food assistance sector underwent significant change from 2009 to 2016. Within WFP, the share of assistance delivered as food declined from 54 per cent to less than 40 per cent. Conversely, the share of cash-based transfers surged from less than one per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent in 2016.
What the report also demonstrates in that national governments’ collective investments in food assistance exceed those of international entities by several orders of magnitude. One such example is India, where a subsidised food distribution system provides support to around 800 million people. Reflecting the need to support these efforts, the amount of technical assistance provided by WFP increased as well, from less than one per cent to eight per cent of expenditures