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Issue 12 Editorial

Dear Readers

Two topical themes emerge in this edition of Field Exchange. The first is food security interventions which do not involve free hand-outs of food aid; the second is issues connected with nutritional food security assessments. An article by Mike Parker about a cash for work programme in East Timor shows how a non-food aid response to food insecurity can be extremely effective. There are few documented experiences or studies of cash interventions in emergencies although a number of donors seem to be getting more interested in this type of response. Coincidentally, Oxfam UK are undertaking research into cash interventions in emergencies based on a set of case studies. The study will examine issues like economic impact, the effect on gender relations, and cost effectiveness (see research section page 3).

Humanitarian agencies have grappled with some of the more intractable operational problems of emergency food aid programmes for many years, e.g. targeting and interruptions in the food aid pipeline (see SC (UK) article on Wajir in this edition). More recently however a number of agencies have begun to consider whether in some situations cash based interventions might be more appropriate. Market interventions, whereby prices of key food commodities are moderated by propping up the market, are also relatively unexplored as an emergency response to food crisis. Conceivably, market support may be a more cost-effective method of targeting the most vulnerable than handing out free food aid. In general few NGOs have experience of, or guidelines on emergency food security strategies which do not involve free food donations, e.g. cash for work programmes, livestock off-take or market support programmes' . There are even a lack of operationally useful guidelines for Food for Work Programmes in spite of the fact that there have been many experiences of implementing FFW during emergencies. Guidelines would have come in very useful in Kenya during 1999 when a number of multi-agency assessment teams recommended widespread food for work programmes in response to the drought affecting large parts of the country. The recommendations were made without any assessment of the institutional capacity to set up and manage FFW programmes or of the number of beneficiaries that could realistically be served. In the event only a handful of small-scale FFW initiatives could be implemented.

During the drought which affected central Tanzania at the end of the 1990s, an INGO in conjunction with government attempted to implement a market support programme. This intervention was recommended as a means of getting around problems of targeting food aid in a large widely dispersed rural community. The intervention failed as the tonnages of maize released onto the market did not have the desired impact in reducing prices. With hindsight the analysis leading to the recommendation for this intervention was probably flawed as it did not take into account parameters like size of market and overall effective demand. These, and other experiences point to the growing need for research leading to the development and dissemination of basic principles and guidelines for selecting and establishing these 'lesser-tried' types of emergency food security intervention.

Although not necessarily their main focus this edition of Field Exchange also carries a number of pieces which highlight some of the difficulties and issues connected with the assessment phase of responding to food emergencies.

An article by Kate Sadler of Concern shows how anthropometric surveys in Wolayita, southern Ethiopia effectively identified the need for general ration and selective feeding programmes as well as demonstrating the impact of these interventions so that decisions about phase out could be made. In contrast, Ken Baileys article about a food crisis in Amhara region of north west Ethiopia suggests that the resources devoted to anthropometric surveys to determine intervention impact might be better used elsewhere. He reasons that once the intervention had begun it would make more sense to set up a community based nutritional surveillance system. This would help tackle longer-term nutritional problems connected with feeding and health practices once the emergency was over. His suggestions for establishing this type of surveillance were supported by the INGO in question.

An article by Robin Wheeler from WFP Kenya describes how one of the driving forces for improving food security coordination in Kenya was the lack of standardisation in assessment approach adopted by agencies and, in some instances, poor adherence to standard survey protocols resulting in poor quality data.

The article by SC (UK) about a micronutrient deficiency disease outbreak in Wajir district of Kenya explains how there was confusion about case definitions for the multiple micro-nutrient deficiency disease. This theme of case definitions for micronutrient diseases is returned to in the agency profile on the International Emergency Refugee and Health Branch (IERHB) of CDC. IERHB are hoping to undertake research leading to a more standardised case definition of scurvy.

A number of points regarding assessment emerge from the various pieces mentioned above;

  1. there is still room for improving technical capacity in assessments, e.g. in establishing more standardised casedefinitions for micro-nutrient deficiency disease
  2. dissemination and uptake of 'best' assessment practice remains problematic,
  3. there is a need to develop guidelines on the appropriateness of assessment approaches for different contexts.

Finally, we would like to thank our readers for the great response to our requests for articles, research and news for this edition of Field Exchange. Apart from making our job easier it is very gratifying to see the enthusiasm out there for contributing material. Please keep it coming.

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Reference this page

Issue 12 Editorial. Field Exchange 12, April 2001. p1. www.ennonline.net/fex/12/fromtheeditor