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Q&A: Confronting global food insecurity in Ukraine, Horn of Africa


Madeline Sahagun, Humanity & Inclusion's Global Food Security Specialist, is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She shares how the organization is confronting the global food crisis, including reflections from her recent visit to Ukraine.

A woman wearing a hat stands in front of a crowd of people at a cash and other basic needs distribution. An HI poster is hung.

A woman at distribution event for cash and other basic needs in Madagascar. | © H. Andrianjatovo / HI

Q: What does the day-to-day look like for someone facing food insecurity? 

It depends on the context but household are forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms. In severe cases, it’s a matter of survival. People go through desperate measures to feed their families. For example, to have food on the table, everyone in the family has to work including children – so they can’t go to school and their risk to exploitation is increased. Farmers sell tools, seeds and land which negatively impacts food production and ultimately their livelihoods. People also go into debt, borrowing money for food. Some households reduce the amount of food they consume to one meal a day, which directly impacts their nutritional and caloric needs.

Q: What is the importance of an inclusivity lens when confronting global food insecurity?  

Food insecurity is much more pronounced in people with disabilities. Evidence shows that people with disabilities and their families are one of the groups with the least access to food and nutrition. 36% of households that are food insecure include at least one person with a disability. They lack access to sufficient and quality food for growth and development and are more at risk of undernutrition or malnutrition. They experience barriers to accessing food, good nutrition and livelihoods. People with disabilities are less likely to have economic opportunities. For example, not being able to work, since they are experiencing multiple barriers. Disabilities can pose limitations in accessing food: mobility limitations, cognitive limitations, work limitations.

In line with our mandate and mission, Humanity & Inclusion prioritizes support for people with disabilities and their families, as well as others experiencing extreme hardship. Evidence shows that people with disabilities often experience disproportionate vulnerability during conflict and humanitarian crisis.

Q: What factors lead to food insecurity in the Horn of Africa? 

There are a multitude of factors but the main drivers are climate and conflict. The Horn of Africa has been experiencing years of consecutive drought so there is no rain to support crops and thousands of livestock have died. Poverty is exacerbated when people’s livelihoods are dependent on agriculture and livestock. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine contribute to higher food prices.  

Q: How is Humanity & Inclusion responding to food insecurity? 

A holistic approach to addressing food insecurity is the best practice. That entails responding to people’s immediate needs, whether with cash or food, but also looking to longer-term solutions that address the root causes of food insecurity: Supporting people to rely on local food sources so that they are not reliant on rations and foreign aid; increasing people’s economic opportunities so they have a source of income to purchase their own food; and helping communities put in preventive measures that make them more resilient to future challenges.  

We promote addressing the immediate life-saving needs, such as the provision of food assistance, in addition to the recovery process, which integrates resilience-building interventions and economic inclusion activities, and transitioning to longer-term durable solutions to ensure our work is sustainable, holistic and impactful. 

Q: You recently spent some time in Ukraine. What things stood out after seeing news of the conflict for many months now? 

What struck me the most is the strength of the people and their sense of nationalism and community. It’s amazing how they have protected their country from the invasion of Russia to the extent that they have. Communities are welcoming internally displaced people into their cities, towns and villages and establishing centers where local community members are providing food, water and shelter. There is a passion and willingness to work for humanitarian organizations. People have expressed how grateful they are of the support from the international community. 

How is cash assistance used to target food insecurity in Ukraine? 

There is a big push from the humanitarian community to distribute multi-purpose cash assistance for food and other basic households needs like hygiene items, medication and shelter. The distribution of cash provides people with a sense of choice and dignity. Cash assistance can stimulate the local economy and can be linked to government funded social services. It can also be done in a larger scale as opposed to rations that have complicated supply chain and logistical considerations.  

The amount of cash provided is determined by what is needed to cover a household’s monthly expenses (rent, income, cost of basic needs). In Ukraine, individuals receive around $60 and Humanity & Inclusion adds an additional top-up for other specific needs. The money is then distributed virtually through an online banking system. 

Date published: 12/02/22


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