Refugee Food AssistanceFor more than 60 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has upheld its commitment to end global poverty, providing desperately needed refugee food assistance today. USAID works in more than 100 countries. It primarily provides humanitarian assistance, promotes global health and supports global stability. All around the world, more than 25 million people face refugee crises. And among these 25 million people, more than half are young children.

Food Assistance

USAID assists refugees by providing emergency refugee food assistance to 25 countries. In particular, USAID’s food assistance reaches Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda and Bangladesh. One of the world’s biggest refugee camps lies in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh, in Cox’s Bazar. There, an estimated 868,000 Rohingya refugees seek safe haven. In order to escape western Myanmar, refugees must travel on foot through forests and turbulent waters. Often times, refugees do not have enough food for the trip and witness the deaths of loved ones. By the end of this journey, many refugees have nowhere to live and no source of living. Fortunately, USAID’s programs offer assistance.

Furthermore, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and the United Nations’ World Food Programme partnered to assist those seeking peace, who lack a home and food. USAID and WFP provide packs of high-energy biscuits as meal replacements for arriving refugees. Moreover, USAID gives WFP resources to buy rice from Bangladesh’s national rice reserve. However, it takes time to distribute food to refugee camps. USAID even supports CARE International, which provides U.S. imported food to Cox’s Bazar.

Relief Tactics

Altogether, USAID programs lay out plans for permanent and stable recoveries using four types of relief tactics. Firstly, USAID provides locally and regionally purchased food, which is more quickly accessible than imported food. Secondly, if local food is unavailable, USAID provides U.S.-grown food. Thirdly, if imported food distorts local prices, USAID offers paper or electronic food vouchers. These vouchers allow refugees to purchase local food and support local communities. Fourthly, if more flexible solutions are required, USAID supplies cash, mobile or debit card transfers.

Beyond relief tactics, USAID helps improve global stability. Every year, USAID assists more than 40 to 50 million people worldwide with emergency food assistance. In 2018 alone, USAID gave more than $690 million to help refugees around the world. Overall, numerous countries benefit from USAID. By providing refugee food assistance, USAID plays a huge role in helping millions living in extreme poverty.

Fita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Ongoing challenges in Lake Chad
Countries surrounding Lake Chad in Central Africa are facing staggering levels of poverty. In addition to ecological challenges, violence stirred up by the terrorist organization Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria has begun to affect other nations in the region — notably Chad, Cameroon and Niger — causing detrimental consequences on food and livelihood security.

How the Region’s Citizens Are Being Affected

Due to ongoing challenges in Lake Chad, the United Nations has found that 10.7 million people are in need of assistance, seven million are food insecure and 515,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. According to the Operational Inter-Sector Working Group, the upcoming June-to-August rainy season in the Lake Chad region will leave 536,000 people vulnerable in Northeast Nigeria.

Areas of Concern for Ongoing Challenges in Lake Chad

  1. Once the third-largest source of freshwater in Africa, satellite images show that the lake has vanished to roughly 10 percent of its original size, putting millions from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria at risk of losing their main source of water. In the 1960s, populations surrounding Lake Chad, which was then home to over 130 species of fish, enjoyed a level of food security.But decreasing water levels from the overuse of water, prolonged drought and global warming are forcing local populations to switch from fishing to agricultural production. “This is not only a humanitarian crisis, but it is also an ecological one,” Food and Agriculture Organization Director -General Graziano da Silva said at a media briefing in Rome in early 2017.
  2. Currently, armed fighting is a staple of the region. In Northeast Nigeria, the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization, will severely hurt cultivation in peak seasons in 2018. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, there was a 25 percent increase in the number of fatal conflict events in 2017 compared to the years 2013–2016 in this region. Households are highly dependent on emergency assistance from humanitarian aid agencies and deteriorating living conditions have led to population displacement.In addition, some areas are facing additional conflicts. There were 323 protection incidents reported on 84 sites in the Chad Lake region between January and April 2018, including violations of the right to property, violations of the right to life and physical integrity and sexual violence, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
  3. Food prices are well above average and are much higher than what is sustainable for those making low wages. Concern is higher in the summer “lean season,” when income is lowest and food prices are highest before harvest begins.Although humanitarian aid organizations are providing supplies, USAID reports that more needs to be done to eradicate acute food insecurity. USAID estimates that in the Adamawa State region in Nigeria, response needs are likely much higher than the organization is able to reach.

How Challenges Are Being Addressed

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is working heavily to mitigate ongoing challenges in Lake Chad, creating a response action plan for 2017–2019 which targets Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. To assist nearly three million people, the Food and Agriculture Organization is in the process of implementing programs include providing livestock emergency support (restocking vaccinations and animal feed), supporting food production and rehabilitating infrastructure to bolster production.

Next, there seems to be mutual understanding among countries in the region of the urgency of action. In February 2018 in Abuja, the Lake Chad Basin region commission along with the Nigerian government and UNESCO held a conference called, “Saving Lake Chad to restore its basin’s ecosystem for sustainable development, security and livelihoods.”

Finally, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network seeks to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. In April 2018, 2.25 million people in the northeast area of Nigeria received food assistance from the organization.

Ongoing challenges in Lake Chad, including the disappearance of Lake Chad, civil conflict driven by Boko Haram and limited access to foodstuff, have pushed thousands into poverty. Keeping these issues in mind, humanitarian aid organizations are working to mitigate and reverse the impacts of decades of damage.

– Isabel Bysiewicz
Photo: Flickr

Food Assistance in IraqAn increase in food assistance for Iraq will become a reality thanks to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) in Iraq will receive an additional $20 million in emergency food assistance per an announcement from Stuart E. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, made on Feb. 29, 2016, according to USAID.

With this new support, provided through USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP), the U.S. government has contributed nearly $623.8 million to support humanitarian activities in Iraq since the 2014 fiscal year, according to USAID’s Iraq-Complex Emergency Fact Sheet.

The new funding will support the distribution of household food parcels, including beans, dry peas, flour, oil and rice — and immediate response rations for vulnerable populations comprising ready-to-eat food items, such as beans, biscuits, canned meat, canned peas and dates according to USAID’s Iraq-Complex Emergency Fact Sheet.

USAID is helping the WFP reach 1.5 million displaced and conflict-affected Iraqis throughout the country according to USAID’s Feb. 29, 2016 press release.

This significant boost in aid has the potential to help Iraqis who were adversely impacted by cuts to the WFP last year. In August 2015, the WFP was forced to cut back food assistance due to a funding shortfall, according to the U.N.

“Unfortunately, lack of funds and the rise in the number of displaced Iraqis forces us to reduce the size of the food rations we provide to tens of thousands of families living outside camps,” said Jane Pearce, WFP representative and country director in Iraq, in an August 2015 press release.

This recent increase in food assistance for Iraq comes at a crucial time. The food and medicine shortage in Iraq resulted in the death of approximately 20 children and older persons in recent weeks according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Between December 2015 and January 2016, the price of some food commodities in Fallujah increased by more than 800 percent, according to the WFP; as of late February, a 110-pound bag of rice cost $400 and a 110-pound sack of wheat flour was priced at $550, reported the IOM.

There is hope that this increase in food assistance for Iraq is a sign of more good to come for internally displaced persons living in the country.

Summer Jackson

Sources: UN, USAID 1, USAID 2
Photo: Wikipedia

Food for Peace, the Past, Present and Future
In 2013, NPR reported that “a political war” was brewing over the Food For Peace Act.

Food for Peace, which has been the United States’ primary program for overseas food assistance, is estimated to have benefited 3 billion people in 150 countries.

The program began as a way for the United States to put its surplus foodstuffs to good use across the globe, and has since modernized into a competitive process in which the American government purchases commodities from US farmers (through a competitive process) and then allocates them to needy populations worldwide.

Or at least, most of those commodities are redistributed. There is a portion of that food that is deemed “non-emergency” and placed into the hands of non-profits that are able to sell it for profit. Being non-profit companies, these profits are intended to then be funneled into development initiatives.

In 2013, this tactic of redistribution was the subject of hot debate. Many critics, including Oxfam America told NPR that it was “a horribly ineffective way to pay for local development projects” and that “according to some calculations, at least a third of the money is wasted.”

Fast forward 2 years later and the war seems to be over. Those who called for reforms, like Oxfam America, were victorious. Food for Peace has recently undergone a fine-print makeover intended to streamline the United States’ role as a pipeline that brings nutrition to starving populations.

Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are leading the charge:

“With limited aid available it is our responsibility to ensure American resources are used in the most effective manner possible,” said Senator Corker. “These necessary reforms will allow us to better promote stability around the world by delivering lifesaving food to those in need more quickly and at a lower cost.”

Senator Coons added that “Our current system for acquiring and distributing food is inefficient and often hurts the very communities it is trying to help.”

So, what will these reforms look like?Food_for_peace

They begin with a more cost-effective method of food procurement. This means that while the current program requires that 100 percent of food be produced in the United States, the reforms would allow US produced commodities as well as regionally produced ones (from places such as Latin America) to be considered for the program.

It will also expand the definition of “commodities” to include vouchers and even cash transfers, which have seen remarkable success in poverty reduction in Randomized Control Trials in Africa.

The reforms will also reduce the number of goods that must be shipped on American-flagged vessels (it is 50 percent currently) which will cut shipping costs an estimated $50 million annually.

For those concerned over how this will affect American shipping interests, a press release has estimated that this would have no tangible effect on the US shipping sector, as only .86 percent of US exports are channeled through Food for Peace.

Finally, the Food for Peace Reforms will deal a fatal blow to the “monetization” aspect—or the portion of food that is given directly to nonprofits–by eliminating this aspect of the program completely.

This comes on the recommendation of the Government Affair’s Office (GAO) who launched an investigation into “monetization” in regards to Food for Peace in 2011. The GAO found that monetization is “an inherently inefficient way to fund development projects and can cause adverse market impacts in developing countries.”

This is at odds with the 2013 claim that it is this program that ensures the continuance of aid assistance regardless of who sits in the oval office.

“If we remove the conditions about how the money should be spent, that money may never be available for those crises, at a key time when we need it,” said Jeffrey Grieco, chief of public and international affairs at International Relief and Development (IRD).

Regardless of the attitude towards monetization, which is likely to spark yet another war in Congress to match the 2013 conflict, these reforms are estimated to release $440 million in funds that could be used to feed 12 million more people. The gains of monetization would have to be at least that strong to hinder this reform bill’s progress through Washington.

Emma Betuel

Sources: Senate, GAO, NPR
Photo: Google Images, Flickr