FAO is a key player in emergencies. Its focus is on food production and agriculture, reflecting its specialization and responsibility within the United Nations family. Assisting in preventing disaster-related emergencies, providing early warning in food emergencies and helping in rehabilitation of food production systems are FAO's roles in humanitarian aid. The main forms of FAO's interventions include needs assessment, provision of agricultural inputs and technical assistance for the planning and management of sustainable recovery and rehabilitation of rural production systems.

Monitoring and early warning: FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System for Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) monitors food supply and demand around the world. It provides policy-makers and analysts with the most up-to-date and accurate information on crop prospects and gives early warning on imminent food crises, so that timely intervention can be planned.

Assessment of impact and needs: To provide the right kind of help in an emergency, it is essential to know the nature and extent of the disaster, how many people are affected and what help is needed. In the immediate aftermath of an emergency involving food and agriculture, FAO works closely with the World Food Programme (WFP) to assess the situation and outlook for crops, food supplies and agricultural inputs and to estimate immediate needs for food and agricultural relief.

In 2001, FAO issued 21 special reports and alerts on countries or sub-regions experiencing particular agricultural and food supply difficulties.

Relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction: FAO's Division for Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation responds to needs for emergency assistance in the agricultural, livestock and fisheries sectors in developing countries affected by exceptional natural or human-induced calamities. Once emergency relief operations are under way, FAO, upon request, helps governments and financing institutions prepare national rehabilitation and reconstruction plans aimed at restoring agricultural support services and rebuilding essential infrastructure.

FAO has five main functions in relation to relief and rehabilitation:

  • Assessment of emergency agricultural relief requirements and related project preparations

  • Resource mobilization

  • Project implementation, including monitoring and impact assessment

  • Advice and support for the preparation of rehabilitation programmes

  • Coordination between organizations involved in emergency relief and rehabilitation of agriculture, to prevent duplication of effort and ensure that all needs are addressed

In 2001, FAO was involved in over 175 emergency agricultural relief projects around the world. At present, it is implementing over 210 emergency projects, for total value exceeding US$109 million.

FAO's emergency relief projects are financed by contributions from governmental and non-governmental agencies, by other United Nations agencies and by FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme. In 2001, donors contributed US$69 million to initiate new FAO emergency relief projects.