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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Food assistance


What is it?

The EU provides food assistance in anticipation of, during, and in the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis. The purpose is to save lives and livelihoods by averting widespread hunger.

Through its humanitarian food assistance, the EU aims to ensure access to safe and nutritious food for the most hungry and vulnerable people in crises.

Why is this important?

In 2021, food insecurity reached unprecedented levels, both in scale and severity.

According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, 193 million people across 53 countries were acutely food insecure and required urgent assistance by the end of 2021. This represents 38 million more compared to 2020 (a 25% increase in 1 year).

Food insecurity has been following an alarming trend in the last 5 years, mainly due to conflicts, economic shocks (many associated with the effects of COVID-19), and climate change.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine dramatically exacerbated the situation through its impact on food, energy and fertiliser prices, as well as supply chain disruptions.

The timely and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance is at risk due to the simultaneous and sudden increase in needs and operational costs due to the war in Ukraine. Moreover, N agencies are warning of a worsening situation soon.

The update of the Hunger Hotspots analysis published in June 2022 confirmed that Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia remain at risk of famine.

Also, Afghanistan and Somalia were added to the list of countries requiring urgent action. The analysis also called attention to specific hotspots (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Kenya among others) due to the scale and severity of existing food crises.

Data for 2021 show around 750,000 people worldwide in phase 5 of food insecurity, which is the highest level in the integrated food security phase classification.

Among them, around 401,000 people were in Ethiopia, making it the world’s worst food crisis of the last decade. The remaining people in such catastrophic conditions are in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

How are we helping?

The EU provides humanitarian food assistance to those affected by food crises worldwide and invests in reducing the risk of famine.

Since 2010, the EU has been rolling out its policy on humanitarian food assistance. We have helped more than 100 million people lacking access to enough safe and nutritious food.

On average, around 20% of the EU’s annual humanitarian aid budget is used to provide emergency food assistance and nutrition. This makes the EU one of the world's major donors in this area.

By the end of 2021, the food assistance component amounted to more than 25% of the total humanitarian budget. In 2022, the share may be even higher, given the severity and scale of the current food crises.

EU food assistance is adapted to each specific crisis and the needs of different groups, for example, children under 5 years old. The EU provides the most vulnerable people with essential and nutritious food items during critical times.

A significant part of our food assistance is provided through cash transfers. This is because sometimes there is enough food in shops and markets, but the victims of disasters do not have money to purchase it.

When this happens, the EU prefers helping vulnerable people access the food they need by giving them money to buy it. This is often more efficient and effective than shipping sacks of rice or flour across the globe.

The EU prioritises providing sustainable solutions and restoring self-reliance by building resilience and protecting the means to earn an income for households at risk of food shortages. For example, we give seeds and toolkits to vulnerable family farmers so they can grow their own food and restore their livelihoods.

The European Commission is a member of the Food Assistance Convention and commits to providing a minimum of €350 million annually to alleviate food insecurity. The EU vastly exceeded its commitment in 2021, allocating €580 million for humanitarian food assistance and nutrition.

Last updated: 25/07/2022
Picture: © UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Facts & figures

Largest beneficiaries of EU-funded food assistance in 2021:

  • Afghanistan
  • Sudan
  • Yemen

Food and nutrition assistance accounted for more than 25% of the EU’s total humanitarian budget in 2021 (€2.18 billion).

EU humanitarian food assistance in 2021:
around €580 million.