Postscript to 'Reconstruction in Bosnia'
We asked Alberteen Van der Veen who has recently been working in the region on behalf of ECHO to comment on this article and where appropriate update information.
In 1996, nearly 60% of all households in B&H were receiving humanitarian food. By January 1997, this figure had decreased, but an impressive 45% of the population was still included in free food distributions. WFP's strategy to distinguish between vulnerable (priority I) and 'at risk beneficiaries (priority 2) never fully materialised as planned. Initially, screening of beneficiary lists was foreseen for 1996, with the aim of reducing the case-load to 600 000 'priority I' beneficiaries and one million 'priority 2' beneficiaries by the beginning of 1997. Due to various problems most of which are described in the related field article - this process was much slower than planned. Screening took, in fact, until October 1997, by which time all priority 2 beneficiaries were phased out. By the end of 1997, WFP and NGO's together were providing food assistance to 800 000 'priority I' beneficiaries. NGO's funded by ECHO are complementing WFP by providing food parcels containing oil, sugar pasta and! or rice to the most vulnerable. About 40% of the WFP caseload is receiving such parcels -especially useful in case of breaks in the pipeline. Some 60 000 people are receiving parcels only. At present, NGO's and WFP are comparing and integrating beneficiary lists. NGO's funded by USAID have taken over from WFP distribution to certain groups, i.e., the elderly and municipalities. During 1998, humanitarian food assistance will further decrease.
ECHO's household food security survey concludes that 87% of all households are food secure, that is they are
able to maintain an adequate diet without humanitarian assistance. Households which consume an adequate diet, but do not have a household budget sufficient to purchase a minimum food basket and thus depend on humanitarian food, account for 7%. These households can be considered potentially food insecure. Some 6% are food vulnerable in the sense they do not have the capacity to maintain an adequate diet. More than half of these were receiving humanitarian food, but not in adequate quantities. In fact, vulnerable and food secure households were on average receiving identical quantities of wheat-flour, oil and sugar. However, the former were twice as likely to receive humanitarian food assistance. These findings demonstrate that:
- targeting does take place but needs to improve with the aim to incorporate food insecure households not yet included in the distribution and further reduce the number of food secure households which do not need food.
- is becoming increasingly unjustifiable on the basis of need especially from an international perspective.
- the current level of food assistance (20% of all households) is more than enough to cover the needs.
The question is whether further scaling down and phasing out will have consequences for household food security. Food insecurity in B&H today is closely linked to poverty. For example, elderly people living without other family members are three times as likely to be food vulnerable than the population as a whole. This is no surprise in view of low and irregular pension. Households with no income from work at all are also extremely
vulnerable. If all humanitarian food assistance were to cease in 1998, food security would indeed be an issue for these households. This does not imply however, that humanitarian food assistance should continue. On the contrary, given that people pay for practically everything else; water, electricity, medical services, the solution is not to give free food which is expensive and not cost-effective, but to improve the income situation. For the nearly 20% of the population solely relying on a pension with no realistic prospect of ever being employed the solution is to raise pensions. This is what this sector are entitled to and should be given without delay. The money is there, huge amounts are accumulating instead of being paid due to managerial and political problems. For the unemployed, currently 12% , the creation of employment opportunities and the establishment of a social welfare system are indicated. Donors can, and are, using their position to urge the national authorities to make progress on these issues. The gradual phasing out of humanitarian (food) assistance indicates that these income related interventions are now a priority. In the meantime donors should continue to fund comprehensive programs which target the truly destitute. Such programs should not only contain a food component but coyer other essential needs (medical, housing, energy) as well.
View the article that this postscript relates to
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 3, January 1998