Menu ENN Search

Measuring household food insecurity in emergencies: WFP’s approach

Summary of published research 1

In order to contribute to efforts to standardise household food security measurement, the World Food Programme (WFP) has explored the use of a score of dietary diversity and food frequency, derived from information about households' consumption of specific food items during a designated period2. A recent article describes the findings of WFP's attempts to pilot the approach in 2004 and 2005 during Darfur emergency food security and nutrition assessments. This was the first time WFP applied the approach in an emergency needs assessment.

The approach combined three elements:

  1. dietary diversity, defined as the number of unique food items consumed during the previous seven days
  2. food consumption frequency, defined as the number of days for which each food item was consumed over the previous seven days, and
  3. the primary source of each food item.

In 2005, the share of food expenditures was added as a fourth element in the analysis.

In 2004, the proportion of food-insecure households was estimated in two steps:

  1. Households were classified into three food consumption groups (acceptable, borderline and poor) according to the diversity of the diet and consumption frequency.
  2. Depending on the primary source of each food item, specifically whether it was from food aid, households were further classified into three food security groups (food secure, vulnerable to becoming food insecure and food insecure). The step was aimed at estimating the sustainability of the current food consumption level through an analysis of the primary source of the foods consumed.

The methods used for the 2004 assessment were further refined in the next assessment in Darfur in 2005. The published article highlights a number of challenges and limitations that still need to be tackled using this approach that are:

Establishing common and absolute thresholds for classifying households into food consumption groups across all countries and situations. Principal component analysis and cluster analysis used in Darfur resulted in different thresholds derived from the dataset of the respective assessments. Therefore, there are limitations to the comparisons that can be made between the proportion of food insecure households in the 2005 and 2004 assessments, and between other assessments in different countries.

The period of time may not adequately account for variations according to the period when the survey is taking place, i.e. seasonality.

The approach followed in the Darfur assessments uses the consumption of food aid as a major criterion to classify household food security groups. In countries where food aid distributions are not implemented, other variables would be required to address the sustainability of the current food consumption pattern, e.g. by taking into account other sources of food such as loans or gifts as examples of unsustainable pattern. However, these variables may be context specific and again this limits the comparability of results across settings and over time.

The approach does not provide information on variations in food consumption within the household. There may be cases where the food consumption pattern is acceptable at household level but poor for some household members.

Rather than being viewed negatively, the authors argue that these and other limitations should be addressed by using these methods in a large variety of emergencies, testing different thresholds and repeating the surveys over time among the same population groups to assess seasonal variations. In addition, further analyses of the correlations between dietary diversity, food consumption frequency and food sources and other key food securityrelated indicators, such as livelihood activities, nutritional status and food availability outlook, should be conducted to estimate the capacity of this approach to assess the various dimensions of household food security.

Other desk reviews conducted for the Strengthening Emergency Needs Assessment Capacity (SENAC) project in 2005 and 2006 can be found on the SENAC website,

Show footnotes

1 Aiga.H and Dhur. A (2006). Measuring household food insecurity in emergencies: WFP's household food consumption approach. Humanitarian Exchange, No 36, pp 36-39, December 2006.

2 This work was undertaken within the framework of the WFP Strengthening Emergency Needs Assessment Capacity (SENAC project), with funding from DFID,ECHO,GTZ, CIDA and the Danish Government.

More like this

FEX: WFP experiences of vulnerability assessment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

By Susana Moreno Romero Susana Moreno Romero is the Food Security Specialist and responsible of the VAM (Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping) team in WFP Lebanon since 2013,...

FEX: Cash, food or vouchers? Evidence from a randomised experiment in northern Ecuador

Summary of research1 Location: Northern Ecuador What we know: There is ongoing debate on the most effective form of food assistance: cash, food vouchers or food...

FEX: Impact of a homestead food production programme on household and child nutrition in Cambodi

Summary of research1 Location: Cambodia What we know: Food-based strategies such as homestead food production have the potential to increase micronutrient intake and improve...

FEX: Livelihoods analysis and identifying appropriate interventions (Special Supplement 3)

3.1 Livelihoods assessment and analysis in emergencies The livelihoods framework provides a tool for analysing people's livelihoods and the impact of specific threats or shocks...

FEX: In Yemen, Cash Assistance Contributes to Positive Nutritional Outcomes

View this article as a pdf Tammam Ahmed is a Nutrition Specialist at Save the Children International Main Chowdhury is Director of Programme, Development, and Quality at Save...

FEX: Seasonal Trends in Pastoral Malnutrition in Somalia

By Louise Masese Mwirigi and Joseph Waweru Ms Lousie Masese-Mwirigi works as a Nutrition Analyst for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO) - Food...

FEX: Distribution of WFP food aid in West Darfur

Summary of research1 Receiving WFP food aid in West Darfur In order to investigate the evolution of the humanitarian situation in Darfur, trends in nutritional status and...

FEX: Comparing cash and food transfers: findings from a pilot project in Sri Lanka

By Lili Mohiddin (Oxfam GB), Manohar Sharma (IFPRI), Anette Haller (WFP Rome) Lili Mohiddin, Manohar Sharma & Anette Haller Lili Mohiddin has been an Emergency Food Security...

FEX: Blanket BP5 distribution to under fives in North Darfur

By Hanna Mattinen, ACF Since 2005, Hanna Mattinen has been Food Aid Advisor at the Action contre la Faim (ACF) headquarters, focusing on policy and operational issues around...

FEX: Simple tools for measuring household food access and dietary diversity

Summary of international workshop1 An international workshop on simple tools for measuring household access to food and dietary diversity was held on March 21-23, 2007 in...

FEX: Study of the Risk Factors for the Development of Nutritional Oedema in North Kivu, DRC

By Mark Myatt and Frances Mason Mark Myatt is a consultant epidemiologist and senior research fellow at the Division of Epidemiology, Institute of Opthalmology, University...

FEX: Impact of a conditional cash transfer programme on determinants of child health in Colombia

Summary of research1 Location: Colombia What we know: Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programmes have demonstrated large impacts on child education, health and nutritional...

FEX: WFP evaluation of emergency operation in Sudan

Fasher-Kabkabiya and Kutum-Fasher, Dafur Summary of evaluation1 The World Food Programme (WFP) recently published an evaluation of their general food distribution programme...

FEX: Differences in food insecurity between adults and children in Zimbabwe

Summary of published research1 Mother and child harvesting sweet potato on communal land in Zimbabwe A variety of methods have been utilised to assess food insecurity,...

FEX: Determinants of adolescent nutritional status and practices in Burkina Faso: A pooled secondary analysis

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Deepali Godha, Maurice Zafimanjaka, Estelle Bambara, Nathalie Likhite and Manisha Tharaney. Deepali...

FEX: Understanding access to nutritious food by poor urban pregnant women and lactating mothers and their children in Kisumu, Kenya

By Albertien van der Veen, Rik Delnoye and Femke van der Lee Albertien van der Veen is an experienced public health nutritionist/epidemiologist and team-leader of the urban...

en-net: Impact of FCS of household on children (U-5) nutrition status

Dear Team, Please need some information or link about impact of FCS (Food Consumption Score) of HH on children (U-5) nutrition status. Thanks Thank you, dear ones!...

FEX: Impact of agronomy and livestock interventions on women’s and children’s dietary diversity in Mali

By Damouko Bonde Lisez cet article en français ici Damouko Bonde is a specialist in project monitoring and evaluation with AVSF Mali. This project was implemented and...

FEX: Integrating Infant and Young Child Feeding and the Productive Safety Net Programme in Ethiopia

By Adèle Fox Adèle Fox is currently based in Concern Worldwide Burundi office as Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Trainee. Adèle completed a Masters in Public Health from...

FEX: Improving the quality of complementary feeding in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

View this article as a pdf Mohammad Zahidul Manir is Nutrition Officer at UNICEF Cox's Bazar office, Bangladesh. Mohammad Shahnewaz Morshed is Nutrition Officer in charge of...


Reference this page

H Aiga and A Dhur (). Measuring household food insecurity in emergencies: WFP’s approach. Field Exchange 30, April 2007. p10.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.