Water to drink and food to eat are the irreducible minimum requirements for human survival.  In this module we look at how emergencies impact the availability of food, and what strategies can be deployed to support the victims of emergencies in maintaining adequate nutrition.

Food being central to human survival, it is not surprising that the subject has many aspects, and can be approached from many perspectives and at different scales.  These span from the individual, where one may focus on clinical issues of specific nutritional deficiencies, to the household economy, where distribution and access issues may arise, to the community level, to national food policy, to regional and international food production and commodity trade issues, as well as institutional response capacity issues.

While no one person can, or should, be expected to be expert in every aspect of the food problem, it is necessary for effective participation in emergency food interventions to have some idea of the broad implications of our actions in this complex matrix.  Although providing food aid to hungry people seems on its face to be an obvious, indeed, morally compelling activity, it has also been shown that food aid can result in significant unanticipated negative effects.

Over recent decades we have learned the hard way, for example, that food aid can provide material support to belligerent warring parties, that too much food aid at the wrong time can seriously damage local production capacities and existing economic distribution systems, that incoherently organized food distribution may relegate vulnerable persons to further deprivation and exploitation, that cultural food preferences cannot be discounted in favor of readily available surplusage, that micronutrient availability becomes critical as feeding programs move from immediate response to longer term, and that large-scale food interventions cannot be sustained in isolation from ongoing agricultural development programming.

We have also come to a clearer understanding that access to adequate food is truly a basic human right.  The comprehensive engagement of this principle has implications at every scale in the food problem.  If we recognize that every man, woman and child has an inalienable right to be free of hunger, and to have access, both physical and economic, to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, adequate in both quality and quantity, we have an organizing principle capacious enough to provide a functional framework for aligning our policies and actions.

Johns Hopkins Public Health Guide for Emergencies
Chapter 9 – Food and Nutrition

The ninth chapter of the Johns Hopkins Public Health Guide to Emergencies serves as a reference manual on the management of emergency nutrition field situations for humanitarian workers and medical professionals, and for training staff on food security and emergency nutrition policies, guidelines, program strategies, technical issues and best practices.

Video: The World Food Programme: Who We Are, What We Do, Why We Do It

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WFP is the worlds’ largest humanitarian organization and the UN’s frontline emergency relief agency..each year we feed around 90 million people in more than 80 countries. We are the ones trucking convoys of food across mine fields in Afghanistan, choppering supplies through snowstorms in Pakistan and hurricanes in Haiti and dropping aid out of the backs of C-130 planes into Sudan.

Video: Food Security and Nutrition

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University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC

Contact Information

Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 118
Honolulu, HI 96822