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Promoting an integrated famine prevention package: Breaking bottlenecks

Summary of the report of the global Food Security and Nutrition Cluster meeting, 26 April 2017 at World Food Programme HQ, Rome

The global Food Security Cluster (FSC) and Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC) co-organised a meeting focused on four countries currently at risk of famine: North-east Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. The objectives of the meeting were to review current collective nutrition and food security responses and identify gaps; establish the parameters for an integrated food security and nutrition response; agree on an appropriate integrated famine prevention response package; and complete plans for scaling up responses across the four countries through the Food Security; Nutrition; Health; and Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Clusters. The meeting involved 70 participants from 24 international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), United Nations (UN) agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The meeting was opened by Daniel Gustafson, Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who discussed the severity of current food crises in North-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, where over ten million people are on the brink of famine and a further 30 million are severely food-insecure. He emphasised the need for new forms of engagement at all levels to address the multi-dimensional drivers of food insecurity and hunger, stressing the importance of working together across sectors to find concrete operational solutions to famine.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director, Office of Emergency Programmes, described the “perfect storm” in which humanitarian agencies find themselves when operating in the four countries. The situation, he said, is driven by conflict, restricted access to affected populations, breakdown of capacity and infrastructure, and protection risks. He emphasised the need to find practical solutions to overcome access problems and to integrate strategies to protect vulnerable beneficiaries in all programmes to ensure that no harm is done. He also emphasised the need to find practical programme solutions, identify accountabilities among humanitarian partners and explore all possible options to prevent famine in the four focus countries.

A contextual overview of the food insecurity situation in each country was jointly provided by Arif Husain, Head of the Food Security Analysis and Trends Service of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Luca Russo, FAO Senior Food Crisis Analyst. Overall around 180 million people are affected by food insecurity in 38 countries, out of which nearly 30 million people are located in North-east Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. These countries are all affected by adverse weather conditions (drought), conflict or a combination of both. A famine is declared when there is evidence in a single location of: a) at least 20% of the population facing extreme food shortages; b) at least 30% of children under five years suffering from global acute malnutrition (GAM); and c) daily deaths occur at double the normal rate.

Josephine Ippe, Global Nutrition Cluster Coordinator, provided an overview of the nutrition situation in each country, including information on WASH and health. She identified emerging social and political issues, including drought; conflict/insecurity; access restriction; unemployment; dwindling oil production; internal displacement/population movement; influx of refugees into neighbouring countries; breakdown of social services; and non-payment of salaries. A deleterious nutrition situation common to all countries includes high levels of stunting, GAM, vitamin A deficiency, anaemia, sub-optimal infant and young child feeding practices and low coverage of nutrition programmes. The situation in each country was briefly described.

In terms of WASH, millions of people affected by the crisis currently have no access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation and hygiene services. Cases of cholera, acute watery diarrhoea and malaria are rising. Low water tables are causing competition between host communities and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and between people and animals, and water access is a driver of the crisis in arid lands, especially in Somalia.

In terms of health, conflict has damaged or destroyed much health service infrastructure and remaining facilities are under strain from the influx of displaced families. There is a chronic shortage of medicines and health worker salaries are not being paid. Millions of children are at risk of diarrhoeal disease, measles and meningitis. Conflict continues to disrupt health services and attacks on health workers are common. For the Nutrition Cluster, breakdown in national health systems has a huge implication on the delivery of nutrition-specific programmes.

There is a funding shortfall in all sectors in all four countries and urgent fundraising is required. There is also no integrated information system to inform and monitor the response. All four sectors were urged to innovate to overcome these challenges and scale up coverage to deliver a quality and timely response. 

Nutrition and food security famine prevention responses

Country Cluster Coordinators for Nutrition and Food Security made presentations on the current food security and nutrition situation in their respective countries, existing joint programmes, opportunities for scale-up, challenges and recommendations. The challenges identified across all four countries were grouped under three thematic areas: systems, capacity and implementation.

Bottlenecks identified with regards to systems include: a) the lack of a platform for integration at strategic level (since the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) are sector-specific); b) lack of an accountability framework for cluster lead agencies and partners; c) funding shortfalls and unequal funding of the related sectors, which affects multi-sector integration; and d) lack of comprehensive joint targeting for response.

In terms of capacity, challenges include: a) limited capacity of implementing partners to implement both food security and nutrition interventions (most are sector-specific); b) high staff turnover and insufficient human resource capacities; c) poor infrastructure and weak governance; d) lack of global guidance on joint planning and integrated or multi-sector response; and e) no clear sector transition strategy from emergency to development interventions.

In terms of implementation, bottlenecks include: a) different delivery platforms for food security and nutrition interventions (households versus health facilities); b) lack of physical access; c) needs assessment and analysis hindered by access and security concerns and lack of sectoral integration; and d) frequent pipeline breaks due to lack of funds, restrictions on imports and dysfunctional markets.

Actions to address bottlenecks for an integrated response

Participants worked in groups to identify and prioritise specific actions to respond to these challenges. Integration of the food security and nutrition sectors was underlined as key, although health and WASH interventions must also be included for effective nutrition outcomes. It was also recognised that some system-level bottlenecks are beyond the control of individual Cluster Coordinators and require significant support from lead agencies and cluster partners. For these, advocacy is key. Table 1 outlines priority bottlenecks and practical actions identified by the group. 

Table 1: Priority bottlenecks and proposed actions to address them 

Cluster Coordinators also met to develop concrete integrated workplans for their respective countries in response to the proposed actions. Progress on these workplans is described in a series of articles in this issue, developed with ENN support and presented at the annual GNC meeting in Geneva 10-12 October 2017.

Conclusion and way forward

The Emergency Directors of WFP, FAO and UNICEF facilitated a discussion around the proposed solutions and committed to working closely together to support them at global level. They also agreed to advocate for increased funding for adequate staffing for clusters and cluster lead agencies and to influence the humanitarian architecture to support effective multi-sector integration at country level. It was highlighted that, in order to effect scale-up, partners should actively participate in country-level clusters; donors should provide adequate, flexible funding that supports multi-sector programming; and the quality of the response should be measured, including accountability to the affected population.

Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Associate Executive Director of WFP, closed the meeting by emphasising the fundamental role that clusters and cluster lead agencies play in ensuring that there is adequate leadership for an effective humanitarian response in the clusters they lead. He also emphasised the positive work going on in the affected countries, but urged agencies to break down silos and truly integrate and invest limited resources in critical interventions, fast, in order to avoid famine. Speaking on behalf of the cluster lead agencies (UNICEF, FAO and WFP), he said they will fully commit to engage and pursue this work through country-level clusters with the support of global teams, specifically the Emergency Directors, to address the strategic global issues raised.

Global stakeholders, including over 30 international NGOs and UN agencies, committed to supporting this process through a series of actions described in Box 1.

Box 1: Inter-cluster operational response in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria: Call for action1

First category of actions: Commitment to address structural operational bottlenecks

1. We commit to coordinate data collection between sectors and share all data available in order to conduct systematic multi-sector analyses, under the umbrella of the existing UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)-facilitated inter-cluster working groups at country level.

2. We commit to participate and support the development and operationalisation of joint action plans in all of the four countries that are promoting integrated response between Nutrition, Food Security, Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and Health.

3. Under the umbrella of existing inter-cluster working groups, we commit to working towards joint programming and integrated responses that are based on vulnerability and composite indicators so that all the factors contributing to increased malnutrition, diseases and mortality within the current famine context are addressed.

4. Recognising that resources are limited and might not allow for a full coverage of all needs, we commit to working at cluster and inter-cluster levels in order to ensure prioritisation based on geographic convergences.

5. Acknowledging the importance of information sharing, we commit to share beneficiary lists, with respect for confidentiality, through the set-up, to the extent possible, of a single beneficiary database for the four sectors in each country.

6. Recognising the need to demonstrate our collective outcome, we commit to conducting regularly, through clusters and inter-cluster, joint monitoring of our integrated interventions through the set-up of joint indicators as well as to document lessons learned.

7. We commit to support the local governments and national partners, based on their operational capacities and comparative advantage, in delivering an integrated famine response. We also commit to the provision of minimum technical capacity to improve programme quality for national partners who are front-line implementers.

8. We commit to ensuring that, across four countries, integrated approach is defined and understood by all partners. For the purpose of the call for action, integration is defined as “an intentional combining of sectoral interventions in order to improve humanitarian outcomes”. Based on this definition, an integrated package of interventions will be outlined for each country based on context, situation and vulnerabilities in the respective countries.

We will ensure that affected communities are reached with an integrated package of interventions that reduces the risk of famine, malnutrition, diseases and mortality, by effectively utilising the respective cluster partner’s comparative advantages.

Second category of actions: Commitment to influence enablers to humanitarian actions

9. Recognising that conflict and insecurity have affected access to affected populations in the four countries, we commit to support one another in facilitating access, through the development of country-level task teams with membership from all relevant actors. In so doing, we commit to uphold and fully adhere to humanitarian principles.

10. Given insecurity and access-related challenges, maximising the effective use of common services such as logistics and access/corridors of tranquillity will be key in four countries’ contexts. We therefore commit to effectively sharing logistics and access information and the delivery of integrated response where access has been granted. Linked to this, we pledge to share and coordinate communication on access problems that hampers delivery of services and systematically report to Humanitarian Coordinators (HCs)/ Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs) and relevant authorities to take action in addressing the access problems.

11. We also commit to engage donors in strategic discussions related to risk sharing in hard-to-reach areas.

12. Recognising that the current format of the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) is not agile enough to support multi-sector programming, we commit to initiating discussions on complementary or alternative options to the sector-by-sector approach.

Third category of actions: Commitment to advocate for solutions to external operational bottlenecks

13. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), as the Cluster Lead Agencies for the Food Security Cluster, commit to report periodically to the United Nations Security Council on the food security situation in the four countries as well as on other conflict-affected countries and to call on the parties to conflicts to grant urgent and unrestricted access to deliver humanitarian assistance to affected populations.

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Promoting an integrated famine prevention package: Breaking bottlenecks. Field Exchange 56, December 2017. p47. www.ennonline.net/fex/56/faminepreventionwfprome

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