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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. It aims 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 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, more than 155 million people across 55 countries required urgent food, nutrition, and livelihoods assistance by the end of 2020.

Food crises have been fuelled by conflict, climate shocks and economic turbulence. These problems were made worse by COVID-19 and the locust plague in east Africa. The number of people in the world facing food crises has remained well over 100 million in the last 6 years, and a growing number of countries have been affected by food crises.

The update of the hunger-hotspot analysis published in March 2021 confirmed that Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria were at risk of famine. The analysis also called attention to specific hotspots due to the scale and severity of existing food crises.

An analysis conducted in Ethiopia in June 2021 indicated that 350,000 people were in phase 5 of food insecurity. This is the highest level in the integrated food-security phase-classification scale, making it the world’s worst food crisis of the last decade.

How are we helping?

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

Since 2010, the EU has been rolling out its humanitarian food-assistance policy and helped more than 100 million people lacking access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food.

Overall, almost 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.

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.

Sometimes, there is enough food in shops and markets, but the victims of disasters do not have money to purchase food. When this happens, the EU prefers helping vulnerable people get access to 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 livelihoods of households at risk of food shortages. It does this in many ways, such as by giving 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 largely exceeded its commitment in 2020 allocating in total €500 million for humanitarian food assistance and nutrition.

Last updated: 27/07/2021

Picture: © UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Facts & figures

Largest beneficiaries of EU-funded food assistance in 2020:

  • Syria (including Syrian refugees)
  • Yemen
  • Sudan

Food and nutrition assistance accounts for almost 20% of the EU’s total humanitarian budget.  

EU humanitarian food assistance in 2020:
around €500 million.