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Humanitarian food assistance

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Humanitarian food assistance



European Commission Communication (COM(2010) 126 final) — Humanitarian food assistance


This European Commission communication defines the strategic framework in which the EU provides food assistance in the event of a humanitarian crisis*.

It is presented together with another Commission communication on food security and development.



EU humanitarian food assistance* aims to ensure that sufficient, safe and nutritious food is consumed before, during and after a humanitarian crisis to prevent mortality, acute malnutrition or detrimental coping mechanisms (e.g. where the vulnerable sell off their assets or go into debt).

The specific objectives are:

  • 1.

    to safeguard the availability of, access to and consumption of adequate, safe and nutritious food for populations affected by humanitarian crises;

  • 2.

    to protect and restore livelihoods and to help improve the resilience of vulnerable groups to future shocks; and

  • 3.

    to strengthen the capacity of the international humanitarian aid system in the delivery of food assistance.

This includes:

  • providing food assistance in the form of cash, vouchers, food products and other commodities or services, skills and knowledge;
  • complementary interventions like access to fuel, water and hygiene;
  • restoring basic livelihoods, such as enabling farmers to have access to seeds;
  • assisting in preventing and treating malnutrition; and
  • strengthening capacity with enhanced and innovative approaches, tools and training.

The choice of the most appropriate response, including transfer means (e.g. cash or kind), is based on the specific context and is regularly reviewed.


In accordance with the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, interventions in humanitarian food assistance operations:

  • must respect the fundamental humanitarian principles of
    • humanity,
    • neutrality,
    • impartiality, and
    • independence;
  • must be needs- and results-based, flexible, effective and harmless;
  • should be coordinated with other donors and food security development interventions to:
    • ensure an optimal coverage of emergency and development needs, and
    • maximise opportunities for sustainable impact as well as the resilience of food crisis victims.

Assistance operations

EU humanitarian food assistance usually applies when:

  • emergency rates of mortality or acute malnutrition have been reached or will be reached due to a lack of food, according to forecasts;
  • there are serious threats to the population or risks of extreme suffering due to a lack of livelihood or bad strategies for coping with the crisis (e.g. sale of productive assets, migration or insecure survival practices).

Nevertheless, food assistance can be provided as soon as a crisis begins, and not only once extreme risks occur.

Normally, humanitarian food assistance is not to be used to address chronic food insecurity*, unless:

  • the situation presents an imminent and very severe humanitarian risk;
  • other actors cannot act;
  • the action may have a positive impact within a short time.

Safe, sufficient and local food

People should have access to safe and well-balanced food of sufficient quantity and quality. The type of food proposed should, if possible, conform to local dietary preferences.


About 795 million people worldwide — or around one person in nine — are hungry, according to the latest UN hunger report (The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015). The number of African countries facing food crises doubled from 12 in 1990 to 24 in 2015. In 2014, the Commission alone provided €349 million in humanitarian funding for food assistance.

For more information, see:


Humanitarian crisis: an event which represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or well-being of people. A humanitarian crisis can result from natural or man-made disasters, can have a rapid or slow onset and can be of short or protracted duration

Humanitarian food assistance: food assistance provided to victims of humanitarian crises

Chronic food insecurity: the persistent inability to access adequate nutrient intake, either on a constant basis or on a periodic, seasonal basis


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Humanitarian Food Assistance (COM(2010) 126 final of 31.3.2010).


Commission staff working document — Accompanying document to the communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Humanitarian Food Assistance (SEC(2010) 374 final of 31.3.2010).

last update 18.07.2016