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Inter-Agency Workshop on Food Security Assessments in Emergencies: Amsterdam, 2-3 December 1997

On the 2nd and 3rd of December 1997 MSF Holland organised a workshop on food security assessments in emergencies. The purpose of the workshop was to share and discuss approaches to food security assessments in emergencies. Participants included representatives of NGOs, UN and donor agencies as well as academic institutions. Several agencies submitted papers on their approach to assessment in emergencies.

The following is a summary of the main points written up in the report of the meeting:

* Food security assessments in emergencies were generally considered to have two main purposes; to assess risks to livelihoods, and to assess whether people are able to meet their immediate food needs. The actual aims of a particular assessment will depend on the agency approach to food security, the users of information and the context in which it is done, e.g. stage of emergency.

* Agency approaches differed in their analysis but used the same theoretical basis. For example, in the case of Oxfam, food insecurity was indicated by shifts in entitlements and its severity by the adoption of damaging coping strategies and impact on nutritional status. For ICRC, a population was considered food insecure if the terms and means of exchange were no longer sufficient to meet obligatory expenses, and for SCF, food insecurity was indicated by the existence and size of a food deficit.

* Qualitative methods were more commonly used than quantitative ones. Typically, a first step would be to divide a population or area into population groups expected to be similarly affected (e.g. according to wealth, livelihood systems, political or social groups). A combination of PRA techniques was then used to assess the food security of each group, in particular key informant interviews.

One of the main problems in doing food security assessments is the shortage of people with the necessary knowledge and skills. Training of agency staff in both concepts of food security and PRA techniques is needed. In addition, not all food security 'experts' are sufficiently familiar with the different approaches to food security assessments, and not all training for nutritionists includes concepts of food security and famine causation. Information on the different approaches to food security assessments needs to be disseminated more widely.

From the donor perspective, greater justification for emergency food interventions is required now - compared to the past. WFP and UNHCR are under pressure to target food aid more effectively, and to justify the need for intervention with food security assessments. SCF's food economy approach has been adopted for this purpose.

The report of this meeting is available from Saskia van der Kam, MSF Holland, Max Euwplein 40, PO Box 10014, 1001 EA Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Tel: 31 20 52 08700, Fax: 31 20 6205170, e-mail: office@amsterdam.msf.org

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Inter-Agency Workshop on Food Security Assessments in Emergencies: Amsterdam, 2-3 December 1997. Field Exchange 4, June 1998. p15. www.ennonline.net/fex/4/inter

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