FAO, WFP and EU discuss heading off food crises

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Brussels:Acting before disasters strike is more efficient and helps save both lives and money, officials from the United Nations food agencies and the European Union said during a virtual meeting today designed to boost the role of anticipatory action as an urgently needed solution to food crises.

According to a FAO news release, the Brussels Dialogue – “From reaction to prevention: anticipatory action against food crises” – brought together the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the European Union’s Humanitarian Aid operations. The high-level session was followed by panel discussions featuring partners’ experience at field level and the sharing of lessons learned.

Building on the outcomes of the high-level event on anticipatory action convened by the UN Secretary-General, and the UN Food Systems Summit, the initiative reiterates the engagement of the founding members of The Global Network Against Food Crises, an alliance of humanitarian and development actors who seek to tackle the root causes of food crises and promote sustainable solutions.

After decades of decline, the number of people facing hunger has started rising again. Today there are 155 million people who are suffering from acute hunger and whose lives and livelihoods are at risk because they lack food. A further 41 million people risk falling into famine or famine-like conditions.

“These trends are showing us that our traditional, reactive approaches no longer fit our new reality,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. We know that many food crises are preventable because they are recurring, Qu said. “And we know that investing in early warning systems pays off – not just for communities, but also for governments.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to existing threats like pests, plagues, conflict and climate change, compounding the global food crisis and adding to a sense of urgency. At the same time, advances in technology and data collection have greatly improved experts’ ability to analyse risks and anticipate many disasters before they strike, making the shift from reaction to prevention an essential move forward, particularly during times of financial constraint.

“Food assistance needs are rising faster than the funding made available, making the current aid paradigm unsustainable in the longer-term,” said Janez Lenarcic, the EU Commissioner for Crisis Management. “We need to start acting on the risks of future food crises.”

WFP said preventing food crises is cost-effective and requires joint efforts that should go beyond just natural hazard risks and include conflict risks as well. “We can’t sit back and wait. We already have the solutions. In the past couple of years, we have been preparing for the type of anticipatory action that is needed to address the challenges we’re facing in the future. But it’s time to invest to scale up these programs,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “Every time you have to come in after the crisis hits, when roads are shut and infrastructure is down, it can cost at least twice as much.”

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