Guidance and Resources

Food Security in Emergencies

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Within this definition of food security, there are four components:

1. Food availability is the food [of appropriate quality] that is physically present in the area of concern and expected to become available for use in that area within the period of concern – from domestic production and imports (including food aid). Food availability may be aggregated at the national, provincial, district or community level. Food availability is determined by:

  • production: food produced in the area;
  • stocks: food held by traders, in government reserves [and at farm level] in the area;
  • trade: food brought into (and taken out of) the area through market mechanisms;
  • bulk transfers: food brought into the area by the government and/or aid agencies.

2. Food access (of households in specific population groups) is the ability of households to regularly acquire adequate amounts of appropriate food for a nutritious diet. Means of access may include:

  • own production – of crops, livestock or farmed fish;
  • hunting, fishing or gathering wild foods;
  • purchases at markets, shops, etc.; 16
  • barter exchange – exchange of items for food;
  • gifts from friends, relatives, community,
  • transfers from government or aid agencies (relief or safety net programmes).

3. Food utilization (by households in specific population groups) refers to the use that households make of the food to which they have access and individuals’ ability to absorb and metabolize the nutrients the conversion efficiency of the body. Food utilization depends on:

  • the ways in which food is stored, processed and prepared (including the water and cooking fuel
  • available, and hygiene practices);
  • feeding practices, particularly for individuals with special needs such as young children, the
  • elderly, sick people, and pregnant and lactating women;
  • the sharing of food within the household and the extent to which this corresponds to individuals’
  • nutritional needs – growth, pregnancy, lactation, etc.;
  • the health status of each member of the household.

4. Stability refers to consistency and reliability in food supplies/availability and access: households should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks or cyclical events.

This section provides tools and guidance related to the food security response in humanitarian emergencies, including food assistance, agriculture and livelihoods response.