Director-General QU Dongyu

FAO in Review: Emergency and humanitarian response

Urgent agricultural interventions in emergencies and crises have enormous impacts on food availability, nutrition and displacement, significantly cutting other humanitarian costs. © FAO/Luis Tato

FAO continues to be at the forefront of global efforts to address emerging food security challenges, leveraging its leadership role and strengths as the United Nations specialized agency in food and agriculture. Most recently, the Organization has scaled-up its technical support in view of protracted conflicts around the world, the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and growing uncertainty around global food and agriculture markets.

This year, FAO is on track to reach more than the 30 million people supported in 2021 with urgently needed, life-saving and cost-effective humanitarian assistance and resilience building efforts. In particular, FAO has been stepping up its emergency programming in countries with high and rising levels of acute food insecurity and complex crises, with the goal of reaching at least 60 million people per year by 2023.

 © FAO/Mirwais Ghani © FAO/Arete/Ismail Taxta

FAO distributes soybean certified seeds, and fertilizers to farmers at the provincial centre of Kapisa, Afghanistan. © FAO/Mirwais Ghani; The eLocust3 app tracing hopper bands of locusts. A notable success in the fight against Desert Locust in East Africa in 2020-2022 was largely due to the use of FAO innovative applications such as eLocust3 on the ground. © FAO/Arete/Ismail Taxta

Anticipatory and prevention approach  

Acute food insecurity continues to escalate globally, with up to 222 million people in need of urgent assistance in 45 countries, almost one million of whom face the immediate threat of starvation.

FAO recognizes that, while critical, humanitarian assistance alone cannot prevent famine in the long run. As such, FAO advocates for greater investment in medium and long-term resilience building, livelihood protection and disaster risk reduction support alongside humanitarian actions, especially in fragile contexts.

FAO is thus stepping up its work in prevention and anticipation with the aim to address the root causes of food crises. The Organization plays a leading role in global, regional, national and local level early warning systems and analyses. Anticipatory action already accounts for almost 30 percent of all work under the FAO’s Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities.

“The scale of acute hunger today is truly startling, but we can turn it around and significantly reduce the number of people in need. Two out of three people facing acute food insecurity rely on agriculture for their survival. They have the keys to their own recovery in a crisis, what they need is the means to do so. That is where FAO has a vital role to play. We are on the ground with staff and partners in even the most remote communities, able to provide time-critical humanitarian assistance and build on existing activities to save lives and begin laying the path to recovery and lasting resilience,” said Rein Paulsen, Director of FAO Emergencies and Resilience.

© FAO/Victor Sokolowicz

In Somalia, FAO focuses on saving lives and averting famine now, including by protecting the animalsare a vital source of nutrition for many locals. © FAO/Isak Amin

Agriculture is life-saving humanitarian aid

Agriculture is a frontline humanitarian response and must be considered as such – a fact that has been neglected for far too long. Urgent agricultural interventions, especially when combined with cash and food assistance, have enormous impacts on food availability, nutrition and displacement, significantly cutting other humanitarian costs.

Critically, the evidence suggests that agricultural interventions meet the highest needs and priorities of those most affected by crises.

In the past few years, FAO has made extraordinary progress in mobilizing voluntary contributions. In 2022, FAO has already mobilized $1.69 billion, almost $930 million of which have been directed to emergency support so far, compared with $604 million in 2021.

This sharp increase in funding, in part related to major emergency operations, including in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, is an important recognition of the critical need for the contribution of FAO in emergency contexts.

Highlights of FAO response

One example of how FAO's unique technical knowledge and capacity can be leveraged in emergency contexts is its timely response to the locust upsurge in East Africa. When floods and swarms of ravenous desert locusts hit the region in 2020, FAO stepped in to control the upsurge and get people back on their feet using state-of-art digital tools.

FAO immediately supported governments to conduct surveys and control operations, and trained people in the region on how to use innovative applications such as eLocust3 to recognize and report the pest. FAO purchased vehicles and motorbikes for governments to be more mobile, procured pesticides, provided people with safety protection kits including masks, gloves and glasses. FAO also hired a number of aircrafts and helicopters to increase surveillance and control. As a result of these massive and timely interventions, the East Africa upsurge was officially declared suppressed in mid-2022. At the same time, these interventions have built local and national capacity for action ahead of any future upsurge.

In Ukraine, FAO has a unique role to play in supporting storage to keep grain secure and ensure food security across the country and beyond. To safeguard existing and upcoming harvests and food reserves, FAO has provided massive capacity to store up to 6 million tonnes of grain (about 30 percent of the national storage capacity gap) through the distribution of polyethylene grain sleeves, grain loading and unloading machinery, and a variety of modular storage units to farmers. This assistance is crucial to ensure that grain is properly saved, and farmers are able to sell and export grain when appropriate.

In addition, over 80 000 rural people have received emergency agricultural support (seed potatoes and vegetable seeds) and cash assistance.   

For instance, in Afghanistan – one of the countries most reliant on agriculture – FAO is on the ground, meeting critical needs. By the end of 2022, nine million people (50 percent of the rural population in IPC Phase 3+) are expected to receive livelihoods assistance from the Organization – such as cash, wheat production kits, vegetable production support or livestock-saving aid.

Likewise, FAO has been quick to provide humanitarian aid to one of the most severe droughts in decades in the Horn of Africa. The region has already experienced four consecutive poor rainy seasons – an event not seen in 40 years – and an unprecedented fifth poor season is currently ongoing, with a sixth poor season projected.  In addition to anticipatory action to ease the impacts of the drought at its onset, FAO has scaled up its response as the situation has deteriorated, reaching almost four million rural people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in 2022. Critically, animal health campaigns and feed have protected vital livestock, ensuring that over four million children have access to milk every day. Thanks to FAO’s cash assistance, over 1.5 million people have been able to access food every day for at least three months, while crop production support has met the annual cereal needs of almost 400 000 people.

“Drought-affected rural Somalis are the human face of the global climate emergency. As we focus on saving lives and averting famine now, including by protecting the animals that are a vital source of nutrition for many of the Somali children who face starvation today, there we also need donors to step up investments in livelihoods’ resilience, infrastructure development, climate adaptation and durable solutions to ensure those affected can adapt and thrive in the future,” said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.

At a global level, the FAO-led Global Network Against Food Crises provides a platform for coordinated and coherent actions to fight acute food insecurity across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, based on solid data and analysis. Likewise, FAO continues to build partnerships across the UN system in support of these actions, including through the UN Peacebuilding Fund.

 © FAO/Oleksandr Mliekov © FAO/Michael Tewelde

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, over 80 000 rural people have received vegetable seeds andpotato starter kits from FAO as well as cash assistance. © FAO/Oleksandr Mliekov; In response to one of the most severe droughts in decades in the Horn of Africa, FAO-led animal health campaigns and feed distribution have protected vital livestock, ensuring that over four million children have access to milk every day. © FAO/Michael Tewelde