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WFP intervention in Bosnia Herzegovina '92 - '97

An internal evaluation

In Field Exchange Issue III a field article described the current situation in Bosnia and the reconstruction process, drawing out implications for food security and the future of food aid. This WFP evaluation touches on a number of related food aid issues.

The World Food Programme has recently completed an evaluation of the emergency food aid programme in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH) from its inception in 1992 to June 1997. The evaluation set out to assess the relevance, timeliness, efficiency and effects of food assistance and related services and to derive lessons for possible application in similar emergencies and post-emergency situations. Some key issues identified for evaluation were:

  1. an assessment of capacity to respond to beneficiary needs involving assessment of targeting, monitoring, management and staffing issues,
  2. relevance of food aid in a period of reconstruction,
  3. the future of food aid in BiH and,
  4. the effects of the emergency operation on the war itself.

The Operation

From 1991 to late 1992, UNHCR were mainly responsible for food aid provision in BiH. From 1992 to 1995 WFP took on the responsibility for delivery of most of the food aid to extended delivery points (EDPs) outside BiH . Then, in the transition period from 1995 to 1997, during which time the Dayton peace agreement was signed and hostilities ended, management of the food chain within BiH was handed over to WFP. By September 1997 over 1.14 million tons of food had been provided and up until the end of 1996 an average of 2.6 million people a year were being reached. The majority were located inside BiH. At the height of the conflict in BiH there were about 1.2 million IDPs and 1.4 million war affected people. An estimated 80% of the people of BiH have at one time or another been beneficiaries of food aid supplied by WFP and UNHCR

Evaluation Findings

Co-operation between the two agencies (WFP and UNHCR) was good. However, frequent gaps in the pipeline resulting from difficulties in mobilising and maintaining an adequate response from donors, occasionally gave rise to some tensions within and between the agencies.

Supply of assistance under war conditions

Food distributed did cover the population's most urgent needs even though only rudimentary data were available for assessment purposes. No widespread hunger or malnutrition occurred despite weaknesses in the food aid pipeline. Later in this emergency, targeting became increasingly feasible so that localised under or over supply was gradually corrected. However, in the case of isolated populations of besieged cities, poor access due to insecurity made distribution difficult. Air-lifts were frequently used. The Sarajevo airlift was the longest running humanitarian air-bridge in history (July 3rd 1992 to 9th Jan 1996). "When access by land was denied, distribution was by air transport, as in the difficult and relatively successful airdrop operations in Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa. It seems that only in Bihac was it not possible to stave off hunger by such means in late 1994 and 1995". The evaluation team concluded that more attention could have been paid to maximising the amounts of food delivered, by providing food items chosen because of their high nutritional value in relation to their volume.

Unintended consequences

The evaluation outlined two lines of argument to support the view that the aid programme somehow prolonged the conflict.

  1. by giving generous support the donors were able to defend themselves against the charge of inaction thereby postponing military action.

    However there was no evidence that aid deflected public opinion from support for a military intervention. Moreover, as the humanitarian intervention brought with it additional media coverage, a precursor to the eventual intervention, this hypothesis was thought to have little credibility.
  2. aid gave material assistance to the combatants and therefore prolonged conflict.

    Of course aid did support the military effort. Even if supplies were not diverted to combatants, the provision of aid, including food aid, would have allowed the diversion to the war of resources which would otherwise have been needed to sustain the non-combatant population. However, the evaluators were not convinced that the risks of increased suffering that would have occurred in the absence of humanitarian support would have been justified by an increase in the prospect of a swifter and satisfactory outcome of the conflict. Nevertheless, the provision of aid, including food aid, did have some unavoidable negative political effects. Since access for the distribution of assistance was under the control of the authorities in situ, bargaining with them and agreeing to using the channels under their control, reinforced their authority. Also, in some cases, food taxes were levied by the military authorities to allow convoys to pass. One conclusion is that under war conditions humanitarian agencies must select staff in terms of their capacity to engage continually in stressful negotiations with difficult interlocutors, and to remain firm even under threat, without jeopardising the continuity of the operation.

Targeting and Monitoring: The evaluation team asserted that efforts made to target food aid were commendable throughout the war under extremely difficult conditions. However, monitoring was hampered by a lack of resources despite continuous requests for support from donors, who were in fact anxious to receive monitoring reports.
Nevertheless, monitors did cover as many distribution points as possible and obtained sufficient information to indicate that the priority categories of beneficiaries were receiving appropriate rations. With the end of hostilities a decision was made to scale down the food aid programme. The decision was justified on the basis that food should not be seen as an alternative to a social welfare system. However, as food aid was scaled down the evaluators were concerned that the national authorities and donor agencies should take steps required to create an effective social welfare system. This became now a matter of urgency. Intensifying efforts to refine targeting became an issue almost immediately after the signing of the peace accord. The overriding factor was donor pressure. A policy decision was made calling for a reduction in the quantities of food to be delivered and hence the need for a reduction in the number of beneficiaries to be assisted. In April 1996 the food aid assessment mission recommended reducing the number of direct beneficiaries (i.e. those eligible for general distribution) to an overall target of 600,000 people or around 20 percent of the population. Although the criteria may have been accepted by local authorities, progress in their application has been slow. Despite considerable competence and capacity within the local authorities, the concept of targeting is apparently not very well accepted. There appears to be little motivation to put in place a targeting system. It seems that to give a little to nearly everyone, without regard to needs, has been preferable to an exclusive targeted distribution based on need. Other difficulties with the process of scaling down and re-targeting the operation were highlighted: the exercise is being undertaken quite rapidly, allowing authorities little time to make a reliable census or establish structures to assist people who will no longer appear on the lists. The 20% figure is arbitrary in that there are no data to predict the distribution of the population in terms of income level or other chosen criteria. It is unlikely that the local authorities will have sufficient human or financial resources to complete a census/survey properly even if they were motivated to do so.
With the required precision in targeting and the rapid reduction in beneficiary numbers, monitoring activities have had to become more sophisticated, requiring more technically skilled staff and more resources. But again, and despite donor demands for more data, the necessary funding has not been forthcoming.

Reference:UNHCR/WFP Joint Evaluation of Emergency Food Assistance to Returnees, Refugees, Displaced Persons and Other War-Affected Populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. WFP, Executive Board Second Regular Session, Rome 12-15 May 1998. Evaluation Reports, Agenda item 3 Internet:
Contacts: WFP Office of Evaluation, e-mail:

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WFP intervention in Bosnia Herzegovina '92 - '97. Field Exchange 5, October 1998. p23.



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