Famine Relief - Famine Response Methods

Famine Response Methods

In his book on famine, Fred Cuny stated that "the chances of saving lives at the outset of a relief operation are greatly reduced when food is imported. By the time it arrives in the country and gets to people, many will have died." He goes on to say that "evidence suggests the massive food shipments sent to Somalia in 1992 had little impact on the outcome of the famine . . . and that by the time it arrived in sufficient, steady quantities in the rural areas, the death rate had peaked and was already declining."" - Andrew S. Natsios (Administrator U.S. Agency for International Development)

There is a growing realization among aid groups that giving cash or cash vouchers instead of food is a cheaper, faster, and more efficient way to deliver help to the hungry, particularly in areas where food is available but unaffordable. In a major endorsement of the approach, the UN's World Food Program, the biggest non-governmental distributor of food, announced that it will begin distributing cash and vouchers instead of food in some areas. Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, described the plan as a "revolution" in food aid.

However, for people in a drought living a long way from and with limited access to markets, delivering sacks of grain and tins of oil may be the most appropriate way to help. Fred Cuny further pointed out "Studies of every recent famine have shown that food was available in-country — though not always in the immediate food deficit area. Usually, merchants begin hoarding food as a crisis develops — in conflicts, to keep it from being stolen, in famines, to get higher prices. Even though by local standards the prices are too high for the poor to purchase it, it would usually be cheaper for a donor to buy the hoarded food at the inflated price than to import it from abroad." from memorandum to former Representative Steve Solarz (United States, Democratic Party, New York) - July 1994. The Irish aid agency Concern is piloting a method through a mobile phone operator, Safaricom, which runs a money transfer program that allows cash to be sent from one part of the country to another. Concern donated more than $30,000 for distribution via cellphone to some of Kenya's poorest people so that they can buy local food.

In the past four years, Ethiopia has been pioneering a program that has now become part of the World Bank's prescribed recipe for coping with a food crisis and, as a result, it had been seen by aid organizations as a model of how to best help hungry nations. Through the country's main food assistance program, the Productive Safety Net Program, Ethiopia has been giving rural residents who are chronically short of food, a chance to work for food or cash. In addition, foreign aid organizations like the World Food Program were then able to buy food locally from surplus areas to distribute in areas with a shortage of food. Since then, the percentage of Ethiopians living in poverty dropped to 39 percent in 2006 from 44 percent in 2001, according to the World Bank.

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