Linking Emergency Response to Need in “Food Emergencies”

April 1, 2007 - <>, John Staatz, and <>

IDWP 92. David Tschirley, John Staatz, and Cynthia Donovan. 2007. Linking Emergency Response to Need in “Food Emergencies”

When an emergency occurs, agencies must make quick decisions on how to help people facing
severe food insecurity. This paper addresses the challenges of designing appropriate responses
that are linked to identified needs of affected households and individuals. The primary goal of
any response is to save lives now and protect the food security of households and individuals
now and in the future. However, instrumental goals and the specific means of achieving them
are varied, and must be responsive to the setting in which the emergency occurs.

The paper conceives the costs and benefits of a response as the product of how efficiently a
resource is delivered (resource transfer efficiency) and the effectiveness of the resource and its
mode of delivery in achieving the objectives of the response (resource use efficiency). Those
designing emergency response operations need to focus on the combination of these efficiencies,
not just on one of them.

Policy change is frequently one of the most efficient responses to food security emergencies,
with low budgetary costs and potentially high benefits for millions of consumers. The paper
shows how policy in southern Africa in 2002/03 could have reduced the cost and improved the
effectiveness of emergency response operations.

Food security emergencies are almost never just about food, but about a range of needs. Also, in
a market setting, even during emergencies, resources are fungible. As a result, the effect of a
given resource (food, cash) on household behavior is difficult to predict. Based on these
observations, and on findings emerging from research on cash transfers, the paper suggests that a
diversified response will typically be most effective and least risky.

Food and cash should be complements in any response, not substitutes. There are many different
ways to deliver these resources, therefore, choosing appropriate delivery mechanisms – and
implementing them well – may often be as important as the specific resource used. New needs
assessment tools are required to predict outcomes of different delivery mechanisms and resource
bundles. Decision makers will also need to revisit agency mandates if a wider range of response
options is to be considered.


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