Select your language

Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Food security standard 1: General food security

People have a right to humanitarian food assistance that ensures their survival and upholds their dignity, and as far as possible prevents the erosion of their assets and builds resilience.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Prioritising life-saving responses: Distribution of food, cash or vouchers or a combination of these is the most common initial response to acute food insecurity. Other types of response should also be considered, including food subsidies, temporary fee waivers, employment programmes, productive support to livelihoods, destocking, fodder provision and support to markets. When markets are functioning and accessible and there are no serious risks of inflation, the priority may be to re-establish normal market arrangements and revitalise economic activities that provide employment (see Markets and food security interventions sections in References and further reading). Such strategies could be more appropriate than food distribution if they offer advantages in supporting livelihoods, reducing future vulnerability and upholding dignity. Agencies should take into account what others are doing to ensure that the combined response provides inputs and services that are complementary.
  2. Support, protect and promote food security: This includes a wide range of responses and advocacy. While meeting immediate needs and preserving productive assets will be the priority during the initial stages of a disaster, responses should be planned with a longer-term perspective and integrated with responses from other sectors. In the short term, it may not be feasible to achieve food security from people’s own livelihood strategies. However, existing strategies that contribute to food security and preserve dignity should be supported. Food security responses should prevent further erosion of assets, lead towards recovery of assets lost through disaster and increase resilience to future hazards.
  3. Risks associated with coping strategies: Coping strategies contributing to food security and dignity should be supported. However, coping strategies may carry costs or incur risks that increase vulnerability (see Food security and nutrition assessment standard 1). The risks must be recognised as soon as possible and early interventions undertaken to help people avoid resorting to such strategies. For example, wood distribution and/or fuel-efficient stoves can avoid overuse of natural resources and travel to insecure areas; cash grants can avoid distress sales of assets and land (see Protection Principle 1).
  4. Exit and transition strategies must be considered from the outset, particularly where the response may have long-term implications, e.g. the provision of free services which would normally be paid for, such as veterinary services, may make it difficult to resume paid services. Before closing a programme or making the transition to a new phase, there should be evidence of improvement or that other better-placed actors can take responsibility. In the case of food, cash and/or voucher transfers, it may mean linking with existing social protection or long-term safety-net systems or advocating with governments and donors to establish systems that address chronic food insecurity.
  5. Access to knowledge, skills and services: Organisational structures should be designed and planned together with users, so that they are appropriate and adequately maintained, where possible beyond the life of the intervention. Some individuals have very specific needs, e.g. children orphaned as a result of AIDS may miss out on the information and skills transfer that takes place within families, which can be provided by appropriate services.
  6. Environmental impact: The natural resource base for production and livelihoods of the disaster-affected population (and host population) should be preserved. Impact on the environment should be considered during assessment and planning of any response. For example, people living in camps require cooking fuel, which may accelerate local deforestation; distribution of food with long cooking times will require more cooking fuel, potentially affecting the environment (see Food security–food transfers standard 2). Responses can also help the environment recover from degradation. For example, destocking reduces pressure on pasture during a drought, making more grazing available for surviving livestock. Where possible, responses should build the capacity of people to manage natural resources, particularly when supplying inputs. The risk of a response causing or exacerbating tensions over natural resources, and so fuelling conflict, should be appraised and mitigated (see Protection Principle 1).
  7. Coverage, access and acceptability: Beneficiaries and their characteristics should be assessed and their numbers, disaggregated by sex and age, estimated before determining the level of participation of different groups (paying particular attention to vulnerable people). Participation is partly determined by ease of access and the acceptability of activities to participants. Even though some food security responses are targeted at the economically active, they should not discriminate unfairly and should be accessible to vulnerable people and protect dependents, including children. Constraints may limit participation, including reduced capacity to work, heavy workload at home, pregnancy, feeding and caring for children, and illness and disability. Overcoming constraints involves identifying activities within the capacity of the groups or setting-up appropriate support structures. Targeting mechanisms based on self-selection should be established after full consultation with all groups in the population (see Protection Principle 2).
  8. Monitoring and evaluation: It is necessary to monitor the wider food security situation in order to assess the continued relevance of an intervention, determine when to phase out specific activities, introduce modifications or new projects and identify any need for advocacy. The evaluation should be based on established Development Assistance Committee criteria recorded by the OECD, which measure the following: appropriateness, connectedness, coherence, coverage, efficiency, effectiveness and impact.