Reconstruction in Bosnia: Implications for Food Security and the Future of Food Aid

The authors of this article are Fiona Watson and Aida Filipovitch. Both authors were nutrition Consultants working in B&H for WHO between 1993-6. This article describes the current situation in Bosnia and the reconstruction process. Implications for food security and the future of food aid are then drawn out. Since this piece was written there have been further needs assessments and changes in food aid provision for Bosnia. These will not be reflected in the article.

Images of weeping women being evicted from their homes, strutting commanders victoriously entering yet another devastated village, and UN 'peacekeepers' arguing with obstinate soldiers to try to assure the safe passage of humanitarian aid, bombarded us from our TV screens for four long years of war in Bosnia. Since the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in December 1995, however, Bosnia has received little media attention while Larry Hollingworth has packed his bags and moved on to other war zones. The impression we are left with, is that there is no longer an emergency in Bosnia; that the problem is solved.

But is this true? Reconstruction is an extremely important part of emergency work; probably more important in the long-term than 'fire-fighting' in the acute stages of an emergency. In the case of Bosnia, the threat of food insecurity for some sections of the population is probably greater now than it was during the war.

The Dayton peace agreement, brokered by the Americans, recognised B&H as a single sovereign country divided into two Entities: the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska with 49 per cent of the territory and a population of 1.2 million; and the Muslim/Croat-controlled Federation of B&H with 51 per cent of the territory and a population of 2.3 million. The Federation is, in turn, divided into 10 cantons: five of which are predominantly Muslim; three predominantly Croat; and two which are ethnically mixed. At the lowest level, both the Republika Srpska and the Federation are divided into Municipalities (See figure 1).

Figure 1
Political Structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina
National Bosnia and Herzegovina
3-Person collective presidency;
Council of Ministers;
Bicameral Parliament.
Entity Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina Republika Srpska
President;
Government;
Bicameral Parliament.
President;
Government;
Bicameral Parliament.
Canton 10 Cantons

The central government has limited power while the Entities have responsibility for a broad range of governing activities including defence, health and establishing social policies. In effect, there remain two separate governments.

The impact of the war and outstanding problems

The war left B&H in ruins. Out of an initial population of 4.3 million, an estimated 250,000 people were killed with a further 200,000 wounded of whom 13,000 have been left with permanent physical disabilities. About 11 .3 million people left the country as refugees of whom only six per cent have returned and a further one million were internally displaced of whom 360,000 remain homeless. The pre-war economy collapsed, and there was widespread destruction and damage to buildings and infrastructures. Direct war damages have been estimated at between US$15 and 20 billion, and 50 to 60 per cent of the population of working age are currently unemployed. Between 1.5 and 4 million landmines were planted during the war, and most have yet to be cleared.

Though the Dayton peace agreement put an end to active warfare, political security has yet to be established. No side can be said to have won the war in B&H leaving all sides disgruntled losers. Political insecurity coupled with the poor state of the economy and few economic opportunities means that there is little incentive to invest in the country. The majority of refugees and displaced are unable to return home either because they fear repercussions of returning to an area in which they are now part of an ethnic minority, or because their homes have been destroyed, or because the destruction in some areas is so complete that there will be no work, no schools, no health facilities etc on their return.

The reconstruction process

The World Bank have been nominated as the lead agency in the reconstruction process replacing UNHCR who were the lead UN agency during the war. The Bank believes that B&H faces three major challenges. Firstly, reconstruction - largely focusing on physical reconstruction. Secondly, rehabilitation of institutions of state, i.e. financial and governmental. Thirdly, the transition to a market economy as a natural development of the economic and political process started before the war.

Table 1: Aid commitments for reconstruction
  Aid commitments (US$ per capita) GNP (US$ per capita)
Bosnia and Herzegovina 400 250-500
Rwanda 80-90 80
Mozambique 60-70 60

The estimated funding requirements for these activities between 1996 to 1998/99 is US$5.1 billion. Compared to other countries at a similar stage of reconstruction, the aid commitments to B&H are high (See table 1). The major donors are the EU, World Bank and USA followed by the governments of Japan and the Netherlands. Disbursements to date have been limited due, in part, to a failure to meet the donor's terms of political conditionality. The World Bank's reconstruction programme proposal was developed in early 1996 soon after the ending of the war. In the proposal food and nutrition elements of the reconstruction programme fell under the agriculture sector which had a total proposed budget of US$ 304 million. Funds were sought for two areas specifically related to food and nutrition:

  1. Food Aid Management comprising studies on food aid targeting, monetisation and food production surveys,
  2. Reconstruction of Nutrition Services which included;
    • national food and nutrition policy development,
    • food and nutrition monitoring,
    • programmes to prevent specific nutrition problems (notably anaemia and chronic dietary- related diseases).
    • nutrition training and local capacity building, and
    • development of a public information campaign aimed at promoting "healthy" dietary changes already provoked by the war.

Unfortunately, there were no donor pledges for Reconstruction of Nutrition Services and important initiatives which had been started during the war could not be developed.

The current food security and nutrition situation

Agricultural production has improved since the war ended but the problem of unexploded landmines remains. B&H was never self sufficient in food, however, and a large portion of the population remain dependent on the commercial market and imported food products. The quantity and range of foods on the market have increased dramatically in peace time and prices have fallen. But for many families with no form of employment, the purchase of food remains a problem. At the same time, services such as housing, electricity, water and medical care which were either free or highly subsidised during the socialist era, now have to be paid for placing greater financial demands on households. The transition towards a capitalist economy and increasing privatisation in the absence of jobs is likely to strain the financial resources of many families still further. At the present time, however, food aid distribution continues and there appear to be no major signs of undernutrition

Distribution and targeting of food aid

In 1996, nearly two million people received some form of free food aid which represented almost one third of the population and about 200,000 MT of food aid was distributed. The World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for distributing a general ration and have adopted a sophisticated form of targeting whereby beneficiaries are classified into two groups: 'Priority One' and 'Priority Two'

Criteria for 'Priority One' beneficiaries are:

The priority One group comprise 300,000 people who receive a ration of flour, pulses, oil and sugar equivalent to 1,800 Kcals per day.

Household income assessed on:

  • employment earnings;
  • revenue from sale or rental of services;
  • remittances from abroad;
  • pensions;
  • army remuneration or separation grants;
  • value of household food or non-food production for home consumption;
  • value of donations in cash or in kind from sources other than WFP;
  • production value of land and value of personal wealth and possessions.

Criteria for 'Priority Two' beneficiaries are:

The Priority Two group comprise 1.4 million 'at risk' people who receive a ration of flour, oil and sugar equivalent to 950 Kcals per day.

A monthly income of DM 25 per month is the estimated minimum income necessary to cover basic food requirements (2,200 Kcals per day), while DM 75 per month is the estimated minimum income necessary to cover basic food and non-food needs. Household income is assessed by considering all sources of income(see box below). Per capita income is then derived so that household members can be classified on an individual basis as outlined above.

Vulnerability factors are:

  • mentally or physically handicapped;
  • single or female headed households;
  • elderly over 65 years of age;
  • invalids;.
  • host families of displaced people;
  • participants in home care programmes; households with more than three dependants (children under 14 or elderly over 65) per income earner.

Local authorities are responsible for assessing eligibility for Priority One and Priority Two food aid groups and compiling lists of beneficiaries. In addition to the general ration, there are various programmes, supported largely by NGOs, which distribute supplementary foods (usually dried milk and so-called 'high protein' biscuits) to vulnerable groups (children, pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly), while some institutions such as kindergartens, orphanages, and old people's homes receive humanitarian aid in the form of food. The coverage of these programmes is not comprehensive, however, and many are being wound down. WFP is encouraging income generation programmes such as food for work programmes and seed distribution.

The present distribution system has not been without problems

First, the complicated targeting system has not been totally successful. The strategy to screen potential beneficiaries for entry into Priority One and Priority Two groups has been slower than expected and, one suspects, difficult to implement. Secondly, there has also been a continued reliance on geographical and special group targeting which may have been appropriate during the war but is less appropriate now when socio-economic circumstances are the major determinants of need. For example, there has been over-targeting of easily identifiable groups such as inhabitants of collective centres and under-targeting of less easily detectable vulnerable groups. Thirdly there have been problems related to distribution itself. Local authorities are sometimes reluctant to prioritise according to vulnerability and rather attempt to accommodate all into the system. Fourthly, there has been variation in the quantity and type of commodities received by beneficiaries causing dissatisfaction. Furthermore, there have been incidences where, for political reasons, groups have not received the aid due to them raising questions about who controls distribution. Finally, there is a lack of food security and nutrition monitoring which makes it extremely difficult to make informed decisions about appropriate targeting.

The future of food aid

There are a number of incentives to continue the distribution of food aid:

There are also disincentives:

The problem is: how and when should food aid be phased-out?

The recent inter-agency food and nutrition assessment mission has recommended that the number of beneficiaries should be reduced to 600,000 by December 1997 through the gradual elimination of the 'at risk' group. ECHO are supporting a household food security assessment of B&H which aims to identify the factors contributing to food insecurity and thus improve targeting of food vulnerable households. In the meantime, prospects for B&H appear gloomy. The current high level of unemployment, political insecurity and low incentive for investment coupled with a declining level of aid and interest in B&H from the international community, suggest that the economic future of B&H is unlikely to be rosy. Disparities between the rich and the poor are likely to grow as some gain from the huge reconstruction programme while others wait for the gains to filter down. For the less fortunate, food security may be more of an issue during peace than during war.

Problems with the distribution system:

  • System is slow and complicated
  • Less appropriate now than during war-time as need is determined largely by socio-economic factors
  • Local authority control can mean:
    a) political bias and
    b) inadequate prioritisation based on vulnerability
  • There is little data on food security or nutrition monitoring to inform this kind of system


See also the Post Script to this article.

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Reference this page

Fiona Watson and Aida Filipovitch (1998). Reconstruction in Bosnia: Implications for Food Security and the Future of Food Aid. Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p22. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/bosnia