Download Chapter

Chapter 4 Sectoral responses

Food security


According to the 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, in 2017 821 million people were undernourished and, after several years of decline, global hunger has been on the increase since 2014 (mostly in South America and Africa). The report also noted that nearly 500 million of the most hungry people live in conflict-affected countries.+FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition (Rome: FAO, 2018) (

This Good Practice Review found considerable information concerning general food security (such as stunting, obesity and child malnutrition), food security operations in rural areas and urban food security in chronic poverty settings, links to which are provided at the end of this section. However, there is relatively little information specifically relating to food security in urban emergencies (with notable exceptions, which are presented here). Information on good practice often relates food security to other sectoral approaches, in particular livelihoods and cash and markets (discussed below, as well as in Sections 4.5 and 3.3).

This section introduces food security. It presents good practice relating to disasters and conflict. The section ends with a list of websites and further reading on urban food security. As well as livelihoods and cash and markets, this section relates closely to Section 4.8 on health and Section 3.6 on assessments.

4.9.1 Food in cities

Food security broadly refers to being able to obtain enough food to lead a healthy and productive life. According to the Sphere Handbook, ‘Undernutrition reduces people’s ability to recover after a crisis. It impairs cognitive functions, reduces immunity to disease, increases susceptibility to chronic illness, limits livelihoods opportunities and reduces the ability to engage within the community. It undermines resilience and may increase dependence on ongoing support’.+Sphere Project, Sphere Handbook, p. 160.

Food security closely links to other urban challenges and issues. As the 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report notes: ‘In addition to conflict, climate variability and extremes are among the key drivers behind the recent uptick in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises. The cumulative effect of changes in climate is undermining all dimensions of food security – food availability, access, utilization and stability’.+FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, p. xii. Food shortages in cities can also lead to social unrest and inflation.+ For a discussion, see P. Bonnard, Assessing Urban Food Security: Adjusting the FEWS Rural Vulnerability Assessment Framework to Urban Environments, USAID FEWS Project, 2000 (

In urban areas, information on malnutrition might be limited. One study notes that ‘the figures that are available mask pronounced inequalities within cities. Within apparently prosperous city centres, in huge slums or in condemned housing blocks, rates of malnutrition and infant mortality may be higher than they are in rural areas’.+Identification of Vulnerable People in Urban Environments Assessment of Sustainable Livelihoods and Urban Vulnerabilities, ACF, 2010 (, p. 7. Consumption patterns may also differ between rural and urban areas, for instance people eating out of the home at street markets. An additional well-documented urban phenomenon is increasing levels of obesity, in both low- and middle-income countries. Recent research indicates that obesity is especially an issue among women.+See for example D. Amugsi et al., ‘Prevalence and Time Trends in Overweight and Obesity among Urban Women: An Analysis of Demographic and Health Surveys data from 24 African Countries, 1991–2014, BMJOpen: 7(10) 2017 ( The research concluded that ‘Overweight and obesity are increasing among women of reproductive age in urban Africa, with obesity among this age group having more than doubled or tripled in 12 of the 24 countries. There is an urgent need for deliberate policies and interventions to encourage active lifestyles and healthy eating behaviour to curb this trend in urban Africa’.

4.9.2 Urban food security in disasters

The Sphere Handbook’s 2018 urban revision gives extensive information on food security and nutrition, which is generally applicable in urban areas. Key lessons following disasters include:

Use cash. Cash is often a preferred mechanism for improving food security. WFP states that ‘If deployed in the right context, [cash] can improve access to food, contribute to more consistent consumption patterns and diversified diets as well as reduce negative coping strategies such as selling valuable production assets to buy food’.+ WFP, Cash-based Transfers for Delivering Food Assistance (Rome: WFP, 2017)( While increasing access to food, it should be noted that this in itself may not lead to nutrition security, where markets may comprise highly processed cheap high caloric foods (lots of sugar and fat) with limited nutritional value, or foodstuffs made from poor quality raw materials. According to CaLP, ‘In general, smaller and more frequent cash grants will be spent on food, whereas larger one-time payments will be used for establishing livelihoods or replacing assets’. However, households may also use large grants ‘to buy staples in bulk, achieving increased value for money but less diversity in the diet’.[/footnote]T. Cross and A. Johnston, Cash Transfer Programming in Urban Emergencies: A Toolkit for Practitioners, CaLP, 2011 (, p. xix.[/footnote]

For further information see WFP, Cash-based Transfers for Delivering Food Assistance, April 2017 (

See also an ALNAP webinar, ‘Cash in  the  City:  Addressing  Food  Security  Needs  in  Urban Crises’, 9 December 2016 (

Use existing markets. In Haiti, several agencies worked with street vendors immediately after the earthquake to provide food to affected people.+C. Clermont et al., Urban Disasters: Lessons from Haiti. Study of Member Agencies’ Responses to the Earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti, January 2010 (London: Disasters Emergency Committee, 2011). Using existing markets can also prevent unfair competition from external food suppliers. One assessment by WFP after the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 concluded that urban food distributions would damage existing markets.+S. Sivakumaran, Market Analysis in Emergencies, CaLP, 2011 ( Using markets necessitates a market analysis, discussed in Section 3.3. The example from Jakarta in Box 4.24 describes the benefits of using existing markets.

Take a multisectoral approach. Access to food can be increased through both cash and livelihoods programmes. One example of this is Oxfam’s Emergency Food Security  and Livelihoods (EFSL) approach,  which  links  food  security  with  livelihoods.  A review of three Oxfam programmes (in Gaza, Haiti and Nairobi) responding to urban conflict and disaster situations found that combining these approaches is effective. In Port-au- Prince, the evaluation found that ‘The EFSL component contributed to the economic recovery in Port-au-Prince and an improved food security situation through inputs for the rehabilitation of livelihoods of earthquake-affected communities. It provided emergency food and livelihoods-recovery support to approximately 195,000 beneficiaries outside camps, successfully targeting the very poor, the poor, and small community-level business- owners who had lost most or all of their assets’.+See I. Macauslan with L. Phelps, Oxfam GB Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Urban Programme Evaluation (Oxford: Oxfam GB, 2012) (, p. 6. WFP’s ‘essential needs’ approach uses a multi-sectoral lens to understand vulnerability in urban settings, helping to ‘de-structure the multi-layered and multi-dimensional  complexity  of  elements  associated  to vulnerability through a thorough socio-economic and demographic investigation’.+WFP, Essential Needs Assessment Interim Guidance Note, July 2018 (, p. 10.

See: WFP, Urban Essential Needs Assessment in the Five Communes of Kimbanseke, Kinsenso, Makala, N’sele and Selembao (Kinshasa), September 2018 (; and WFP, Essential Needs Assessment Interim Guidance Note, July 2018 (

For further reading, see I. Macauslan with L. Phelps, Oxfam GB Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Urban Programme Evaluation (Oxford: Oxfam GB, 2012) (

Box 4.24 Food security in Jakarta during the 1997–98 El Niño

‘In Jakarta, Indonesia, as food security came under pressure from drought and reduced rice production during the 1997–98 El Nino event, a novel programme was established to use commercial markets for aid delivery. Imported wheat was milled into flour by Indonesian flour mills, and Indonesian companies produced pre-packaged noodles, providing jobs for some of those recently made unemployed in the city. In addition the noodles could also be used by street-side cafes, ensuring that small food traders and vendors were not adversely affected by the provision of food aid. The programme worked because it allowed each level in the production/delivery chain to make a profit while maintaining incentives and penalties based on performance.’

Source: D. Sanderson and P. Knox-Clarke, Responding to Urban Disasters: Learning from Previous Relief and Recovery Operations (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2012) (, p. 9.

 4.9.3 Food security in conflict

FAO and WFP identify four ‘pillars’ of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. Conflict ‘undermines all these pillars in many, and often interlinked, ways’. Which ‘refers to the fact that all three must be maintained consistently. Conflict undermines      all these pillars in many, and often interlinked, ways’.+FAO/WFP, Monitoring Food Security in Countries with Conflict Situations: A Joint FAO/WFP Update for the United Nations Security Council, January 2018 (, p. iii. One urban food assessment in Juba found that ‘Urban households, for example, are particularly vulnerable to inflation, food price increases, basic non-food price increases, exchange rate/depreciation, policies and regulations, unemployment, crime, illness/death, diseases including HIV/AIDS and epidemics, separation/divorce, general economic decline, conflicts and population influx, and natural disasters’.+National Bureau of Statistics, Juba Urban Food Security and Nutrition Assessment. A collaborative activity of the National Bureau of Statistics with support from FAO, UNICEF, WFP and Juba Administrative Authorities, 2015)( In Gaza, Oxfam’s EFSL programme responded to increased food insecurity exacerbated by the Israeli military occupation during 2008–2009 with cash (including vouchers and cash for work) and training for income generation.

Food security in conflict can be greatly affected, and controlled by, a multiplicity of factors, as the extract in Box 4.25 on Syria illustrates.

Box 4.25 Food security in Syria

‘Overall, trade remains hampered by insecurity. Localized mines and improvised explosive device contamination affect supply routes, which, along with reduced food availability, creates high and highly variable food prices. In addition, the removal of subsidies on certain goods, high inflation rates, lack of employment opportunities and income sources have substantially reduced households’ purchasing power. However, some trade routes have recently reopened such as those linking Damascus to other urban markets in the governorates of Aleppo, Al Hasakeh, and Deir-Ez-Zor. As a result, in October 2017 prices of a standard WFP food basket in some markets of Aleppo, Al Hasakeh and Rural Damascus were 12 to 35 percent lower than their yearly levels. Cereal import requirements are expected to continue to increase for the 2017/18 marketing year (17 percent compared with the previous year) due to below-average domestic production.’

Source: Quoted from FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017: Building Resilience for Peace and Food Security (Rome: WFP, 2017), p. 35.

For a summary of food security in 17 countries affected by conflict, see FAO/WFP, Monitoring Food Security in Countries with Conflict Situations: A Joint FAO/WFP Update  for  the  United Nations Security Council, January 2018 (

For a description of the urban food security crisis in Somalia in 2009, and its impact on markets and prices, see C. Holleman and G. Moloney, ‘Somalia’s Growing Urban Food Security Crisis’, Humanitarian Exchange 42, March 2009 ( See also examples from WFP Lebanon of food insecurity market assessments (

Useful resources

The Food Security and Livelihoods in Urban Settings Working Group’s website provides a number of useful reports concerning urbanisation and food security (

A number of tools exist derived from a developmental understanding of food security. For example, the Household Economy Analysis guidance include a section on adapting tools to urban use ( The guidance also provide examples of urban assessment criteria to monitor food security, as well as expenditure and income patterns.

Identification of Vulnerable People in Urban Environments Assessment of Sustainable Livelihoods and Urban Vulnerabilities, ACF, 2010 ( ACF%20-Identificationof%20Vulnerable%20People%20inUrban%20Environments.pdf).

The African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) (

The Global Food Security and Cluster and World Food Programme’s 2015 report Tracking the Development of Urban Food Security Assessment Tools: 2010 to 2015 provides a desk review of urban food security assessment tools ( gFSC-WFP%20Adapting%20to%20an%20Urban%20World%20-%20Revised%20DESK%20 REVIEW_June%202015.pdf).

Emergency Nutrition Network, Field Exchange: Special Focus on Urban Food Security and Nutrition 46, September 2013 (

Food Security Cluster (

Hungry Cities Partnership (

A desktop study of urban triggers and targeting relating to urban food security can be found in Oxford Policy Management, Review of Urban Food Security Targeting Methodology and Emergency Triggers (Oxford: OPM, 2013) ( security-targeting-methodology-and-emergency-triggers-final-report

C. Skinner and G. Haysom, The Informal Sector’s Role in Food Security: A Missing Link in Policy Debates?, Discussion Paper No 6, March 2017 (

WFP’s reports concerning urban food insecurity can be found at

World Food Programme and urban safety nets: safety-nets.