WOMENAID INTERNATIONAL

RECENT EXPERIENCES OF HANDLING 
WFP HUMANITARIAN FOOD: LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE

A Paper presented by Pida Ripley, M.A. AKC,

Founder WomenAid International at

WFP/CBIHA WORKSHOP
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia 7 December 1995

 

WomenAid International welcomes this initiative on the part of World Food Programme, (WFP) and CBIHA to gather together implementing partners to share information and exchange views on both theory and practise.  For this first session I propose to provide general background information illustrated with the recent experiences of WomenAid International in both Svaneti and Abkhazeti. 

The disintegration of the former Soviet Union from the late 1991 has created major disruptions and economic breakdown in the Caucasus region. The social upheavals which have followed independence, coupled with ethnic tensions, have resulted in major armed conflicts, social dislocations, massive population displacement and precipitous declines in the living standards of large numbers of people. 

The primary aim of humanitarian agencies operating in Georgia is to concentrate on the most immediate and urgent needs of people worst affected by the conflicts in Abkhazia and Ossetia. These groups include: refugees, returnees, displaced persons, some host families.  Other emergency needs have arisen as a result of the crumbling economy which so far has not fulfilled earlier expectations of improvement and change.   

Widening segments of other vulnerable categories are being assisted by a humanitarian community attentive to the need to balance its assistance between refugee/displaced populations and the other affected groups.  Recovery will take time and investment; in the meantime national food security for Georgia as a (LIFD) Low Income Food Deficit Country, will remain highly dependent on programme food aid for wheat and on humanitarian aid to the poor and vulnerable. 

There has been a massive food entitlement decline (FED).  People need to purchase food but do not have the necessary cash or other exchangeable resources to purchase it.  This is exactly the situation in Upper Svaneti. A mountainous region which has lost virtually all of its income generating capacity - logging, tourism etc. Additionally it has security problems.  During late summer there was a major wheat flour shortage and CBIHA requested the assistance of the international community.  WomenAid International and WFP responded and a 42 day emergency food assistance programme was speedily implemented during August.  

SO, HOW ARE BENEFICIARIES IDENTIFIED? 

Ensuring that limited resources are used in the most effective way and given only to those most in need is a problem WFP and all agencies face in all the countries in which they operate. It is essential to identify the 'vulnerable' or the 'poorest of the poor'.  Aid given to those who do not need it is not only a waste of resources, it can also be harmful.  Our aim is to provide the RIGHT assistance to the RIGHT people at the RIGHT time.   

NGO's have a particular responsibility and therefore body of ethics -and that centres on the individual beneficiary - without regard to donor or host government. The raison d'etre of any NGO field office is - the beneficiary.  It is not the NGO's role to protect governments by subsidizing the services they should provide.  

Assessment is undertaken on the nature and extent of need, people affected, the local capacity to cope and priority requirements.  Many groups in the country have some claim to priority and indeed most of the population is at risk from one factor or another.   

Most specialists and social welfare practitioners agree that certain categories in the population are especially vulnerable and in danger of slipping the government and family safety net structures. Among these are the elderly, orphans, disabled, inmates of institutions and hospital inpatients, women as heads of households, the very poor from large families and refugees/IDPs.  Institution feeding is considered a priority in a country with virtually no local government budgets to provide such social services.  

The normal prerequisites for emergency relief are simply that people are in need and lives may be at risk.  Vulnerability is a relative concept in Georgia at the present time, and could include those 99 per cent of the population with incomes close to subsistence, any one of whom could one day to the next land in financial disaster due to accident or illness.  

Vulnerability is a function of largely belonging or not to families or kin. Few people can manage on their own and whether and how they survive depends very often on the help they receive from their extended family, kin, friends and neighbours.  Community and family mechanisms already protect many who would otherwise be food insecure.  Strong bonds of kinship protect family food security of many. Whatever the disadvantages or benefits of an expanded family tradition the system is certainly part of present survival techniques. The most vulnerable are those with few or no kin, especially the displaced. 

Three categories can be immediately singled out as at greater risk than others precisely because they lack family support: Refugees from Abkahazia/Ossetia- IDP's are the largest category of beneficiaries of WFP relief assistance; elderly persons living by themselves; orphans and other children living in institutions.

However ways of identifying vulnerable individuals through their access to money and resources need to be developed.  Armenia has made some interesting advances with the development of PAROS - a sophisticated computerised system to identify the most needy families and monitor the aid contributions.  WomenAid International is currently WFP's sole implementing partner in Armenia where we are distributing food to approximately 250,000 vulnerable groups and refugees/IDP's.  

An indexation system for channeling humanitarian assistance to families at risk throughout Armenia - Paros is one mechanism to define what poverty is and who is vulnerable.  Out of 800,000 families about 625,000 families which considered themselves as needy were registered and each family was given a 'social passport. 

VULNERABILITY DEGREE ASSESSMENT 

In brief, the Paros system categorises the level of vulnerability from questionnaires completed by each family.  Presence of pensioners, orphans, disabled people, income level, family size and, in some cases, the region of residence, all combine to produce a cumulative vulnerability total for each household - a number from 0-72.  Higher levels of vulnerability allow access to the social welfare resources available for humanitarian assistance.  The system also allows such income transfers to be calculated as increased family income, thus modifying their priority level to receive future benefits.  The major weakness of Paros is lack of information on incomes. People are reluctant to give details of their income at any time, and more so in circumstances of irregular and untaxed sources. 

VULNERABILITY MAPPING 

A central concern of WFP and other aid agencies is how to tell which people in which areas need food aid most.  Geographical targeting is commonly used in allocating resources to the poor and hungry.  Maps are produced showing areas of greatest need. For example, in Bangladesh areas prone to famine were mapped but while the first indices used were heavily based upon environmental factors, two subjective visual elements were used: assessments of relative status according to local dress and use of different building materials.  Such indicators are currently being used by the PAROS monitoring teams. 

Districts were categorized into three levels of distress (above average, high and very high).  The map was then distributed to other agencies with field experience in order to confirm the categorization of the districts.  Preparation of vulnerability or poverty maps encourage and help donors and governments to take greater account of issues relating to food insecurity. 

Vulnerability and poverty are not synonymous, although they are often closely related. There are policy reasons for keeping the two terms separate.  Anti-poverty programmes are designed to raise incomes or consumption, while anti-vulnerability programmes aim to reduce the chances of a hazard having a serious or life threatening effect and to increase 'security'. 

TRANSITION & POVERTY 

A relatively limited phenomenon in the artificially full employment and egalitarian societies of the socialist era, poverty has emerged as a major problem and the key topic of political debate. Such debate often makes use of different concepts of poverty that, although conceptually clear and politically legitimate, have very different meanings and call for different policy responses. 

Poverty can mean:- 

Absolute income poverty, i.e. the objective shortage of income in relation to a given normative threshold (the absolute poverty line) that generally allows only the satisfaction of basic physiological and social needs; 

Low income: the typical situation of those with unstable incomes that are only one third above the absolute poverty line, which precludes full participation in social life. 

Despite severe problems of data availability and comparability, it is obvious that since 1989 poverty has escalated sharply in the CIS Republics and especially in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan - all victims of conflict. 

Who are the poor in transitional economies?  The composition of the poor has changed substantially during the transition. while economic difficulties of the last 5.5 years have also affected the 'old poor' ( members of large or single parent families, people with severe disabilities, the elderly subsisting on negligible pensions) the biggest increases in poverty have been recorded among the 'new poor' - long-term unemployed, youth in search of first time employment, refugees. 

It is difficult to understand the present employment situation in Georgia without recourse to underemployment as a concept.  Underemployment is the condition when a person is employed in the sense of having some form of remunerate activity, however small, but the employment is inadequate in relation to specified norms in terms of time spent in employment, income or productivity. Until recently central government still employed approximately 620,000 out of an estimated labour force of 3 million or so.  Wages, and for the most part, attendance are nominal. Few of these workers do a full day's work for a salary of $2 or $3 per month. They scurry around for alternative sources of income, through petty trading, driving for hire, private teaching, and similar. Since they still formally have jobs, this category of worker appear nonetheless as 'employed' in official statistics.  There is in fact little difference between the unemployed and the employed - the dividing line is thin - a few hours a week - a few lari per month. 

Given the level of wages paid by central government, social benefits and the like, no more than two or three dollars monthly, the question to which there is no satisfactory answer is how do people manage to survive?  Survival means raising upwards of ninety dollars a month to feed a family of four and keep them warm.  

 The Committee for Statistical and Economic Information carried out a survey of 500 households in Tbilisi in both August and November 1994, asking about income and sources of income.  Median income was 42,000 roubles (approximately $12), about one eighth of the minimum requirements.  Mean income was $27 reflecting that a few earn a lot of money, the rest earn very little.  

PRELIMINARY PROJECT PLANNING 

When modelling a project the planning team collect adequate baseline data -What is the minimum one needs to know before work can be initiated?  They consider government policies; local social and political structures and hierarchies, and set objectives specifying the target groups, numbers and location.  There was such a wide variation of beneficiary numbers it was clearly necessary to undertake a full survey of vulnerable groups in the Mestia Region.  WAI sent three monitoring teams into the region and produced the first complete survey of both the local population and IDP's.  This was to form the basis of our request for WFP food for the region.  Additionally as we now hold a fully computerised database profile of all people in the region we were able to remove 3000 overlaps . 

Percentage of coverage was high - 81%. However the 19% omitted were extremely upset as were the recipients. The 19% were omitted because they did not qualify to be included in the various vulnerable groups supported by WFP - the younger families with one, two or three children and young adults.  In every village we were requested, sometimes hotly, to give food to theses people also. We were unable to do so. Certainly we will not be able to make another distribution of food in the region without resolving this issue. 

SECONDARY DATA REVIEW 

Before going to the field the planning team review existing data sources concerning the current political-economic, food and nutritional situation in the region.  In the case of WomenAid International's Mestia project documents included assessment reports and surveys from UNICEF , CARE and the regional administration.  

KEY INFORMANT INTERVIEWS are also conducted with local people, administrators, teachers - people who have special insights.  WomenAid International monitors found these interviews particularly helpful. 

Some projects require a preliminary needs assessment - such as a RAPID FOOD SECURITY ASSESSMENT.  Knowledge gained through secondary data review, key informant interviews lead to revision of the initial topical outline or interview guide.   

A RFSA model can tell you a great deal about the context of the programme. There are four main objectives: 

1. Define who the vulnerable groups are - IDP's & Local population 

2. Analyse the causes and extent of vulnerability - Lack of income, security 

3. Determine what are the location specific indicators - Regional/Security problem 

4. Define what are the most appropriate interventions - 42 Day /210 Day Emergency Food Assistance 

There is a need to develop methods of targeting the nutritionally vulnerable. The traditional nutritional vulnerable groups are not appropriate in all circumstances. 

Relief food aid is the most direct means of conveying nutritional benefits: needs are usually not complex, the time frame is often limited, sustainability is not an issue and it is clear who is in need. For refugees and displaced persons the nutritional situation and the actions needed are more complex.  

Where food supplies are inadequate, nutrition gaps exist.  Importantly, individuals within the family can be malnourished even when the household as a whole has access to adequate food.  Anyone who is poor or otherwise disadvantaged socially runs the risk of malnourishment or malnutrition.  Children are particularly at risk.  Children under 5 are especially vulnerable to a malnutrition/infectious disease cycle- being undernourished makes them more susceptible to infections - infections and parasites make them prone to malnutrition. Poor nutrition in early life can handicap them for the rest of the lives. This is why pre-school sand school supplementary feeding programmes have been implemented throughout the world by UN agencies. WomenAid International is implementing such a programme - in kindergartens throughout Georgia. 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE: 
CONSTRAINTS & CHALLENGES 

It would have been unrealistic in Georgia to try and achieve objectives of sustainable human development. The Government has been preoccupied with emergencies, such as civil uprising, banditry, major food and energy shortages.  The best that can be done in present circumstances is to : 

 (i)  identify objectives that are relatively cheap and cost effective  

 (ii) target vulnerable groups  

To improve our ability to target effectively we perhaps need to think about food aid in terms of food security concepts.  

  • How to apply basic food security concepts to food crisis situations 

  • The use of indicators 

  • The design of appropriate intervention strategies. 

Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity.  Food security exists when all people at all times have access to food they need for a healthy active life.  Achieving food security depends upon the key factors of :- availability, access, stability.  There are five basic food security concepts: 

1. NUTRITIONAL SECURITY - defined as the sum total of the socio-economic, cultural, physical behavioural conditions that effect nutritional outcomes. 

2. LIVELIHOOD SECURITY - is attained when households have secure ownership of, or access to, resources and income earning activities, including reserves and assets to offset risks, ease shocks and meet contingencies. 

3. HOUSEHOLD FOOD SECURITY - defined as the capacity of a household to procure a stable and sustainable basket of adequate food. Adequate means "nutritionally and culturally acceptable". Stable means "available across seasons and transitory shortages". Sustainable is defined in terms of resource use, maintenance of productive assets, self reliance and livelihood needs. 

4. FOOD ENTITLEMENTS - is gaining access to food through a combination of sources, such as production, exchange (market and non-market) sale of labour or assets and food aid. Three related concepts : 

  • food security promotion: improving the resilience of livelihoods to meet food and other basic needs on a sustainable basis 

  • food security protection: protecting household livelihood systems to prevent an erosion of productive assets to assist in their recovery 

  • food security provisioning: providing food access to the households to maintain nutritional levels or save lives. 

5. FOOD SYSTEMS ANALYSIS - Food systems analysis are all the key factors an processes involved in determining the availability, flow and consumption of food in a particular society. Macro level analysis should focus on broad policy and structural issues whilst micro level analysis should focus on livelihood systems, coping strategies and consumption patterns.  These five concepts underpin any strategic framework for promoting Household Food Security and Nutritional Security.  

There are three distinct food security interventions: 

PROMOTION INTERVENTIONS deal with policy, structural and resource allocation decisions such as land use, efficient commodity market, credit availability and conservation. 

  •   private sector sources for seed supplies 

  • new credit institutions 

  • better matching of processing technologies with new types of crops. 

PROTECTION INTERVENTIONS focus on protection of assets and livelihoods. Interventions involve food and income transfers that can reduce long term vulnerabilities such as being forced to sell productive assets to meet immediate food needs. 

PROVISIONING INTERVENTIONS  involve relief for people in an emergency or people who are chronically vulnerable. These are often long term in nature. Targeting is critical and should be combined with promotion interventions where possible. 

FOOD SECURITY INDICATORS 

There are three basic types of indicators for use in planning and monitoring of food aid programmes: 

Chronic food insecurity indicators address resource access and socio-economic problems which contribute to chronic food insecurity. Some are structural indicators which can help in targeting basic reforms. 

Transitory food indicators :- available indicators, access indicators and outcome indicators. 

Another three types of indicators address time periods: 

  • leading indicators: provide early warnings, 

  • concurrent indicators: focus on the immediate situation, 

  • trailing indicatorsdescribe the consequences or impact of food insecurity, 

  • performance indicators: focus on programme performance e.g. consumption, nutritional status. 

Indicators of 'income adequacy': In Hungary the cases of pawning rose by one third between 1990 and 1992, while in Yerevan, Armenia, the number of pawnshops rose from two prior to the reforms to 12 in 1994. 

THE RELIEF-DEVELOPMENT CONTINUUM 

Demand for food aid is likely to grow. However past experience has shown that the actual amount of food aid provided is hard to forecast. It will not be influenced by demand alone. Other factors include the level of food production and public stocks in donor countries, world market prices and donor's assistance objectives. 

Institutional barriers and shortage of resources are major obstacles to doing more and to doing it better. The overwhelming majority of emergency resources are tied and designated by donors and provided on an ad hoc basis.  This places major constraints on the ability to programme activities that link relief and development.  

Free handouts should be minimized in favour of the adoption of more selective interventions that no longer distinguish between internally displaced people and vulnerable group categories. Using poverty mapping, the poorest communities and people should be selected.  The poor and hungry require both relief and development assistance 

Creating a division between the two categories is not helpful to those in need.  Relief assistance alone does not strengthen the capacity of poor people to cope with the next emergency. If the most vulnerable people in society are not given longer term and targeted assistance, necessary to become more self-sufficient, the need for relief aid will not decrease.  

The balance of assistance to developing countries has shifted sharply from long-term development to short term relief. The share of aid budgets devoted to disaster relief and humanitarian aid has increased by more than 500 percent since the early eighties.  Nearly half of all UN funds are now allocated to emergencies.   

The shifting balance between relief and development activities is causing a diversion of much needed resources for development to meet crises - but it is only part of the problem. How can relief assistance provide support to development efforts? How can development  aid, at the national and community levels, incorporate features to mitigate possible future crises? 

Three pro-active concepts are mooted: 

  • Integrate elements that strengthen disaster mitigation into development projects 

  • Improving disaster preparedness by vulnerability mapping, early warning systems and institutional development  

  • Developing capacity building elements within relief operations:  

For example, WomenAid International, as the WFP implementing partner in Armenia, has agreed to establish a training component within the programme and thus will train nationals to become logisticians who will eventually be handling the warehousing, transportation and distribution of food commodities throughout Armenia.   

When considering the Relief-Development Continuum, it is important to remember that although some groups can be moved successfully from dependency to development there are limits to targeting developmental activities among the most vulnerable groups. 

A key issue is where are the critical leverage points for moving back up the continuum from relief toward development? It may be necessary to scale back on relief to allow more resources for development interventions. What are the trade-offs? Which programmes will be abandoned? 

Partnership between WFP/CBIHA and agencies will be strengthened by increased sharing of information.  Major reviews and revisions of food aid policies and programmes are being undertaken by donors and agencies. The process of information exchange is now starting to expand into the area of strategy coordination.  

"The first cause of hunger and malnutrition is poverty."  So declared the 1943 Hot Springs, Virginia Meeting convened by Roosevelt. It was the precursor of the creation of the FAO - the first of the UN specialised agencies.  It is still true today. 

Finally I suggest some questions and topics for exploration during the workshop. 

  • Food security framework is helpful in integrating food and development programmes. It provides greater focus to the household level by orienting success and impact measures to households. This can lead to better interventions. 

  • Cost effectiveness of food aid programmes, especially as they relate to food security is an important issue. 

  • Has WFP identified its strategy vis--vis emergency and development, and stated where food security fits in? 

  • Should funding for food programmes acknowledge the continuum and therefore not separate relief and development.  Is a broader view required? 

  • Has WFP/ECHO re-examined its definitions, for example, of emergencies, and how they fit into the phases on the continuum leading toward development. 

  • What is the WFP view on food security? Should it be treated as a separate issue/goal or integrated into other development activities? 

  • Is food the most useful resource in implementing some programmes or is it a substitute for money. Priority of monetization is unclear. 

  • WFP/ECHO should provide guidance on the minimum requirements for programme assessments, as well as maximum cost parameters.  

  • Increased surveying and assessment work will pose further problems for NGO's.  The lack of resources to gather data, the lack of qualified staff and other factors make it difficult since NGOs don't have the tools to do the job. 

  • There are three traditional categories of food aid :-relief, project, and non-project or programme - what can we anticipate the future balance will be? 

    Once we decide what to do in a given situation, the biggest problem is how do we measure whether we have been successful
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