From the dusty plains of South Sudan to the tropics in the Philippines, the world saw a whirlwind of crises destroy lives, livelihoods and human dignity over the past year. Severe drought, ravaging conflict and powerful natural disasters devastated communities and pushed already vulnerable families into crisis, oftentimes lacking enough food. USAID, through its Office of Food For Peace, was there to provide emergency food assistance in those times of need. The face of hunger is changing and we have changed with it—by thinking outside the box and providing more innovative responses to reach families faster, cheaper and more effectively. Among the largest responses this year were Syria, South Sudan, the Philippines and Central African Republic. Keep reading to learn about a few of the innovations USAID used to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Syria

A boy purchases bread in Aleppo, Syria, using a food voucher he received from the World Food Program. / USAID Partner

A boy purchases bread in Aleppo, Syria, using a food voucher he received from the World Food Program. / USAID Partner

Violence in Syria escalated over the past year due to heavy fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and opposition forces, increasing the number of displaced persons to more than 6.4 million. Over the past year, USAID and its partners supported food vouchers for refugee families enabling them to buy food in local markets. Bakeries inside Syria turned regionally purchased wheat into bread for hungry families, ensuring families had that most basic of staples in their daily diets. With this and other forms of assistance—including family-size food packs—USAID assisted partners in reaching nearly 5 million conflict-affected Syrians.

South Sudan

In South Sudan, clashes sparked by a political crisis in December 2013 spurred conflict through much of the country that eventually displaced more than 1.8 million people. Ongoing displacement prevented farmers from planting or harvesting their crops and led to emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity for 1.5 million people. Even before the crisis began, 40 percent of South Sudanese needed humanitarian assistance. In preparation for increasing 2014 needs, USAID shipped U.S. food to South Sudan that arrived in February.

By May, when United Nations officials alerted the world to the possibility of famine, USAID had already authorized the U.N. World Food Program’s (WFP’s) South Sudan program to fully utilize those resources for the emergency response. When on-the-ground distribution became unfeasible due to conflict and the rainy season that collectively made roads impassable, WFP started the very expensive alternative of delivering food aid by aircraft. As part of its response, USAID distributed regionally purchased ready-to-use specialized food products to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in children under the age of 5.

The situation in South Sudan was already dire, but has since spiraled downward to become the worst food security crisis in the world. As a result, USAID has tapped into a seldom-used special authority in the Farm Bill—the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust—to respond to extraordinary, unforeseen and expanding need with additional food aid. Shipments of more than 64,000 metric tons of U.S. food commodities purchased under this special authority are now on their way to Africa to help the South Sudanese people.

Food distribution in South Sudan. / World Food Program

Food distribution in South Sudan. / World Food Program

Philippines

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan swept into the Philippines and proved to be one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. The storm displaced over 14.1 million people and caused billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and livelihoods. Within three weeks of its landfall, USAID provided WFP and the the Philippine Government with the tools needed to provide life saving food assistance to nearly 3 million people.

Through an innovative approach, USAID combined U.S. food—including pre-positioned meal-replacement bars from Miami and pre-positioned rice from Colombo, Sri Lanka—with cash-based assistance to meet urgent food needs. With the cash assistance, WFP purchased rice directly from the Government of the Philippines and airlifted high-energy biscuits from Dubai, including these items in family food packs distributed just five days after the typhoon. WFP also provided cash transfers to purchase basic food items in places where markets were functioning. Additional U.S. rice arrived in February to support food-for-assets activities, which focused on agricultural livelihoods restoration, and direct distribution to the most vulnerable households.

USAID distributes rice and high-energy biscuits to vulnerable families after Typhoon Haiyan. / World Food Program

USAID distributes rice and high-energy biscuits to vulnerable families after Typhoon Haiyan. / World Food Program

Central African Republic

Ongoing armed conflict and political instability in Central African Republic (CAR) since December 2012 has displaced over 490,000 people, created close to 418,000 refugees, and greatly exacerbated food insecurity. Due to heightened insecurities this year along the roads entering the country, USAID and WFP worked to expand the number of entry points into CAR and figure out creative ways to distribute food assistance to those in need, such as using airlifts and river barges.

Using a combination of U.S. and regionally available food, USAID reached over 1 million vulnerable, food insecure people—including both internally displaced persons and refugees.  Returnees in Chad, who fled CAR at the outbreak of violence, are using food vouchers to buy food available on local markets. As the conflict has raged on, decreased access to vulnerable populations has meant USAID and its partners have had to continually search for new and innovative ways to deliver life saving assistance.

Children carry vegetable oil provided by USAID in the Don Bosco camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui, CAR. / World Food Program

Children carry vegetable oil provided by USAID in the Don Bosco camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui, CAR. / World Food Program

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nina Rosenberg is an Information Officer in USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.