Food Assistance

Today, global hunger and undernutrition affect more people than ever before. This is linked to population growth and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural and man-made disasters, which reduce the capacity of the most vulnerable populations to access safe and nutritious food. In 2012, there were 870 million undernourished people in the world, the majority of whom are children (Source: FAO). Nearly 19,000 children under-five died of malnutrition each day in 2011. (Source: UNICEF). In response to this unacceptable reality, the European Commission targets its humanitarian and food assistance on the hungriest and most vulnerable populations in extreme crises, adhering to two of the key principles of the European Union: humanity and solidarity.


The European Commission reaches out people in need of food assistance

The European Commission is one of the world's major donors of humanitarian food assistance. Since 2010, the Commission has been rolling out its new Humanitarian Food Assistance Policy and supported around 100 million people facing acute food insecurity. In 2011, the Commission provided €509 million for humanitarian food assistance and nutrition projects through 57 partner organisations in 47 countries. In the first quarter of 2012, €297 million were allocated for humanitarian food assistance.

How does the European Commission help? - Food assistance toolbox

Humanitarian food assistance seeks to ensure that victims of crises have enough safe and nutritious food to avoid hunger, acute malnutrition and possible fatalities. This does not only require action during a crisis, but also ahead of looming crises and often in the immediate recovery period following a crisis. The food assistance ‘toolbox’ offers many ways of safeguarding availability, access and consumption of safe and nutritious food at every stage of an emergency:

Before - In the months before a crisis when markets are still well stocked and functioning, it can be more effective and cheaper to provide cash or vouchers, rather than food itself. Doing this allows beneficiaries to buy food according to their individual needs, supports local farmers and can boost the local economy.

During – Depending on the nature of the crisis, little food may be available in local markets during the crises themselves. In this case, it may be necessary to provide food commodities directly.

After - In other contexts, people can best be helped by protecting or supporting their existing livelihood activities (e.g. farming, livestock herding). This can be done, for instance, through providing seeds and tools, or through delivering veterinary care, which allows people to continue to feed themselves and their families.

Ongoing – In places where acute malnutrition is widespread, the priority is to treat acutely malnourished children, while at the same time acting to prevent other children from becoming acutely malnourished. However, to find real long-term solutions, malnutrition needs to be addressed from different angles and through a wider approach, for instance by reducing public health risks by ensuring access to safe water or by improving mothers' awareness about childcare.

To address the problem of undernutrition in a sustainable manner, it is essential to link humanitarian relief and development efforts.

Examples of humanitarian food assistance projects

In Kenya, the European Commission finances an integrated nutrition, health and livelihood programme designed to tackle the drought and the related increase in hunger. This is done by funding health care projects to prevent illnesses which worsen people's malnutrition. Veterinary services and animal fodder are also provided to prevent pastoralists from losing their herds which are vital for both their livelihoods and food security. Vouchers are another tool; they are distributed to people most at risk so that they can exchange them for food and milk in local markets.

In Darfur, the European Commission funds a project that provides milling vouchers to people displaced by the conflict, alongside their general food rations. This prevents people from having to sell their grain in order to have the money to pay for the rest of it to be milled into consumable flour. This is a good example of understanding the full range of the beneficiaries' needs, of ensuring that the quantity and nutritional value of the food consumed is not compromised, and of flexibly using a combination of tools best adapted to the context.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the escalating violence in the eastern part of the country has resulted in people being uprooted from their homes. The European Commission is providing cash through an NGO partner organisation to enable displaced households to meet the food needs of their families. The displaced families are scattered across an area and use their cash in different local markets, thereby supporting local traders as well as markets. The recipients of the assistance prefer having the choice to decide on which items to use their humanitarian aid cash grant.

In Pakistan, the European Commission supports a consortium of six NGOs which have worked together since the 2010 flood to address food insecurity and malnutrition. The project assists the affected populations particularly during the months just before the harvest when the food stocks of the poorest are typically very low. The project uses various cash-based tools (food vouchers, cash for work, conditional and unconditional cash grants). In 2012, the project is being implemented in Sindh Province (southern Pakistan), the country's poorest province according to the 2011 National Nutritional Survey, where 72% of households are food insecure.

Who are the main implementing partners of the European Commission?

Food assistance partners implement projects funded by European Commission decisions. The World Food Programme is the single largest food assistance partner. Food assistance projects are also implemented by the ICRC and European NGOs, such as Action Contre la Faim, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, CARE, Save The Children, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Deutschland and Cooperazione Internazionale.

Where does European Commission help?

The top seven beneficiary countries of humanitarian food and nutrition assistance in 2011 include: Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Related information


  • Questions & Answers ECHO World Food Day 2008 English version of the document Pdf file type