FAO's growing role in emergencies

Increasingly complex emergencies and better early warning systems make FAO a key player in emergency rehabilitation

ROME, 14 June 2002 -- In the past three years, FAO has more than doubled its delivery of emergency assistance. The organization's not so visible role in emergencies -- currently totalling 210 projects in 65 countries or regions -- was the subject of a panel on the third day of the World Food Summit: five years later.

"FAO does not distribute food," said Anne M. Bauer, director of FAO's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division. "We help people produce it again themselves. Farmers and other food producers tend to account for 70-90 percent of those affected by natural or man-made emergencies."

FAO's work in emergencies began in the Sahel region of Africa in the early 1970s and developed quickly after the 1994 conflict in Rwanda. There, FAO's agronomist served as technical adviser to relief agencies and coordinated the agricultural rehabilitation effort. Later, in Kosovo, FAO coordinated 56 NGOs and other organizations involved in agricultural assistance. It also provided direct assistance, such as tractor repair, distribution of seeds and restocking of cattle to farmers who had lost everything.

Other emergency activities have ranged from helping vulnerable farmers in Angola, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, ex-soldiers and the rural poor in the Philippines and Tajikistan, small-scale subsistence fishers in Sudan, flood-affected households in Cambodia, Ecuador and Viet Nam and drought-affected families in Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

Emergency funding has increased from US$21 million in 1998 to US$54 million in 2001 (excluding the Oil for Food Programme in Iraq). The money comes mainly from donors, but FAO also has some resources on its regular budget enabling it to move quickly in a crisis.

FAO is currently involved in a major agricultural rehabilitation programme in Afghanistan. "I was in Afghanistan four days ago, and people are very pleased with what FAO is doing," said His Excellency Mostapha Zaher, Special Envoy to the World Food Summit of the Interim Government of Afghanistan, who presided over the panel. FAO is providing seeds, animal vaccination, locust control and other assistance.

FAO collaborates closely with other UN agencies such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Food Programme (WFP). When FAO distributes seeds, for example, they go out along with WFP's food rations so that farmers won't feel compelled to feed the seeds to their families. And FAO collaborates closely with NGOs, who "will accept technical and coordination if they feel they are being well served by it", said Ms Bauer.

But why the dramatic growth in FAO's emergency work?

"We have better early warning tools, so we're more prepared and better able to respond," said Fernanda Guerrieri, chief of FAO's emergency operations service. "With 30 years of experience we are becoming better at assisting the rural communities and this is reflected in the trust that disaster-affected people and the donors have in us. But we're also dealing with more complex emergencies. In places like Afghanistan and Kosovo, the problem has multiple elements, making it harder for farmers to get back into production."

Also, she pointed out, as populations grow, people are increasingly forced to use marginal land such as coastal flood plains or deforested hillsides, which are more vulnerable to cyclones and landslides. If these tragic trends continue, FAO's emergency role could grow even further.
Vaccinating cattle in Afghanistan under an FAO programme in 1994.

Vaccinating cattle in Afghanistan under an FAO programme in 1994.

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FAO, 2002