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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Food security and nutrition assessment standard 1: Food security

Where people are at increased risk of food insecurity, assessments are conducted using accepted methods to understand the type, degree and extent of food insecurity, to identify those most affected and to define the most appropriate response.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Methodology: The scope of assessments and sampling procedures are important, even if informal. Food security assessments should have clear objectives and use internationally accepted methods. Confirmation via different sources of information (e.g. crop assessments, satellite images and household assessments) is vital to have a consistent conclusion (see Core standard 3 and References and further reading).
  2. Sources of information: Secondary information may exist about the pre-disaster situation. As women and men have different and complementary roles in securing the nutritional well-being of the household, this information should be disaggregated by sex as much as possible (see Core Standard 3 and Appendix 1: Food security and livelihoods assessment checklists).
  3. Food availability, access, consumption and utilisation: See definitions for food availability, access and utilisation in the introduction to this chapter.) Food consumption reflects the energy and nutrient intake of individuals in households. It is not practical to measure actual energy content and nutrient details during these assessments. Changes in the number of meals consumed before and after a disaster can be a simple yet revealing indicator of changes in food security. The number of food groups consumed by an individual or household and frequency of consumption over a given reference period reflect dietary diversity. This is a good proxy indicator, especially when correlated with a household’s socio-economic status and also with total food energy intake and diet quality. Tools that can give robust measures on food consumption patterns and problems include seasonal calendars, the Household Dietary Diversity Score, Household Food Insecurity Access Scale or Food Consumption Score.
  4. Food insecurity and nutritional status: Food insecurity is one of three underlying causes of undernutrition. However, it should not be assumed that this is the sole cause of undernutrition.
  5. Context: Food insecurity may be the result of wider macro-economic and structural socio-political factors, including national and international policies, processes or institutions that have an impact on the disaster-affected population’s access to nutritionally adequate food and on the degradation of the local environment. This is usually defined as chronic food insecurity, a long-term condition resulting from structural vulnerabilities that may be aggravated by the impact of disaster. Local and regional food security information systems, including famine early warning systems and the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, are important mechanisms to analyse information.
  6. Response analysis: Food security varies according to people’s livelihoods, their location, the market systems, their access to area markets, their social status (including sex and age),the time of year, the nature of the disaster and the associated responses. The focus of the assessment should address how the affected population acquired food and income before the disaster and how they cope now. Where people have been displaced, the food security of the host population must be taken into account. The assessment should also analyse markets, banks, financial institutions or other local transfer mechanisms in the case of cash transfers, and food supply chains, including the risks associated with them (see Protection Principle 1). This will help assess the feasibility of cash or food transfer interventions and the design of safe and efficient delivery mechanisms.
  7. Market analysis Should be part of the initial and subsequent assessments. An analysis of markets should include price trends, availability of basic goods and services,the impact of the disaster on market structures and the expected recovery period. Understanding the capacity of markets to provide employment, food, essential items and services after a disaster can help the design of timely, cost-effective and appropriate responses that can improve local economies. Market systems can go beyond short-term needs after a disaster to protect livelihoods by supplying productive items (seeds, tools, etc.) and maintaining demand for employment. Programmes should be designed to support local purchase where possible (see Food security – food transfers standard 4, guidance notes 2–3Food security – livelihoods standard 1, guidance note 7 and Food security – livelihoods standard 3, guidance note 2).
  8. Coping strategies: Assessment and analysis should consider the different types of coping strategy, who is applying them and when, how well they work and the nature of adverse impact (if any). Tools such as the Coping Strategies Index are recommended. While strategies vary, there are distinct stages of coping. Some coping strategies are normal, positive and could be supported. Other strategies, sometimes called crisis strategies, may permanently undermine future food security (sale of land, distress migration of whole families or deforestation). Some coping strategies employed by or forced on women and girls may significantly and adversely impact upon their health, psychological well-being and social integration. Coping strategies may also affect the environment, such as over-exploitation of commonly owned natural resources. Analysis should determine a livelihood threshold to identify the most appropriate combination of responses which ensure that food security is protected and supported before all non-damaging options are exhausted (see Protection Principles 1 – Protection Principles 2).
  9. Participatory analysis of vulnerability: Meaningful participation of different groups of women and men and appropriate local organisations and institutions at all stages of the assessment is vital. Programmes should build on local knowledge and be based on need and tailored to the local context. Areas subject to recurrent natural disasters or long-running conflicts may have local early warning and emergency response systems or networks and contingency plans which should be incorporated into any assessment. It is critical to engage women in project design and implementation (see Protection Principles 2 – Protection Principles 3 – Protection Principles 4).
  10. Immediate needs and long-term planning: Interventions which aim to meet immediate food needs can include food transfers and cash and voucher transfers. These can be either stand-alone or in combination with other livelihoods interventions. While meeting immediate needs and preserving productive assets will be the priority at the onset of a crisis, responses must always be planned with the longer term in mind, including an awareness of the impact of climate change on the environmental restoration of a degraded environment.