Taking a stand on food security

From the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the Zika Virus outbreak in Brazil, public health epidemics have changed the way humanitarian groups work, says the head of the emergency operations of Christian Aid. Dr David Mpagi says the balance of power in response teams is shifting away from the WHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) and shifting towards civil society. Dr Mpagi, who is at the High Level Meeting on the New York Food Security Agenda, says the agencies are effectively doing the work of the local community instead. More people in the developing world rely on foodbanks in order to survive. But Dr Mpagi says this latest food crisis makes it clear that the charity sector cannot sit back in the face of crisis. “Emergency food relief in the last few years, especially in West Africa, has really been taking on health functions and finding and getting pregnant women well off as quickly as possible when there is a threat of a health emergency,” he says. “Often if the food systems are not working or there is no refrigeration or there is no way to get these fresh foods to communities, then we don’t help them. “Well, we don’t want to just take those people, we want to help them, so when the crisis strikes, we stand by to give them the help they need.”

Can a year’s supply of lentils and rice solve global hunger? An emergency food crisis over the summer has seen food banks grow faster than at any other time in their history, the NGO Food for the Hungry says. The rising number of food hardship cases is changing how donors give the basics needed to feed one person for a year. Helen Berkman, the president of Food for the Hungry, says when they were first setting up their operation 20 years ago, each crisis left it to local charities to ensure that hungry people had enough to eat. “Since 2005, however, the total number of people experiencing hunger globally has risen from 1.7 billion to two billion people. “Now the crisis has turned from HIV/AIDS, famine and natural disasters to the effects of climate change. “Just this past summer, there were massive food shortages in many parts of the world, including huge stockpiles of food that were left over from one year earlier, and stocks that had sat for too long. “The food banks can save food systems from themselves and prevent people going hungry when we have been adding more and more foods to our shelves in an inefficient way. This reflects a broader trend towards solutions that maximise quality and efficiency, rather than reducing availability in an over-consumptionist world.” Robyn Oxenham from the Hunger Action Coalition, which helps fund some foodbank operations, says while nothing can compare to emergency hunger relief, life in a modern food bank is changing. “A food bank is definitely not just the food parcels that you see today – we work with government and local authorities who take a lot of the shocks out of the equation and move a lot of the food from a store which has shelf-stacking capacity, to the people themselves, so we’re really seeing some innovative responses. “There are different emergency measures that we can put into place as well. We are seeing a lot of aid focusing on how people can purchase the right foods, and helping to run systems to raise funds to buy the right food, but there is also an innovative movement around ways of buying and increasing food production in local communities where people are already doing this, so we are moving in that direction.”

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