A complex emergency is a major humanitarian crisis that is often the result of a combination of political instability, conflict and violence, social inequities and underlying poverty. Complex emergencies are essentially political in nature and can erode the cultural, civil, political and economic stability of societies, particularly when exacerbated by natural hazards and diseases such as HIV and AIDS, which further undermine livelihoods and worsen poverty.
A central part of FAO’s work in complex emergencies is to monitor food security by assessing the economic, political and social causes of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; vulnerability and risk; and the impact of crises/response on food security.
In Somalia, for example, where over two decades of civil conflict have resulted in the loss or damage of vital information on land and water systems and their use, the Somalia Water and Land Information Management Unit was set up by FAO to produce baseline data, assess natural resources and recover as much data as possible. In addition, the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia is an FAO-managed Unit that provides vital and lifesaving information and analysis of food insecurity and malnutrition in the country, informing development planning and facilitating emergency response.
A protracted crisis is characterized by recurrent natural disasters and/or conflict, weak governance, longstanding food crises, the breakdown of livelihoods and insufficient institutional capacity to react to these crises. FAO provides a range of support to populations in countries in protracted crisis. In order to enable crisis-hit populations to quickly recover in the aftermath of “new” emergencies, FAO helps them to meet their immediate needs, for example by providing quality planting materials and farming tools to conflict-affected farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and organizing cash-for-work schemes for families in Somalia during the 2011 famine. By vaccinating animals and providing support for alternative income-generating activities (such as cheese-making in the Sudan’s Darfur region, seed production in Afghanistan, and fish processing in South Sudan), FAO is helping to protect the remaining assets of crisis-hit farmers, herders and fishers.
FAO also undertakes longer-term activities in protracted crisis situations, such as supporting the creation or strengthening of local agricultural institutions in the Sudan (through the Sudan Productive Capacity Recovery Programme) or providing extension support through farmer and pastoral field schools in Burundi, and training returnees in vegetable production in the Central African Republic.