International Food Assistance:

Key Issues for Congressional Oversight

GAO-09-977SP: Published: Sep 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2009.

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Thomas Melito
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The number of individuals experiencing hunger has grown to more than 1 billion worldwide in 2009, up from a record 963 million in 2008, according to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO attributes this upsurge in hunger to the global economic crisis, which followed rising food and fuel prices from 2006 to 2008. However, even before these crises, the number of undernourished people had been increasing annually in sub-Saharan Africa--where some of the world's food needs are greatest--underscoring the need to improve international food assistance. International food assistance includes both emergency food aid and long-term food security programs. Due to rising food prices, increasing conflicts, poverty, and natural disasters, in 2007, a record 47 countries--27 located in Africa--faced food crises requiring emergency assistance, according to FAO. To address these emergencies, countries provide food aid as part of a humanitarian response to address acute hunger through either in-kind donations of food or cash donations. In-kind food aid is food procured and delivered to vulnerable populations, while cash donations are given to implementing organizations, such as the UN World Food Program (WFP), to procure food in local and regional markets, also referred to as local and regional procurement (LRP). International food assistance also includes a development-focused response to address long-term chronic hunger through food security programs. While food aid has helped to address the immediate nutritional requirements of some vulnerable people in the short term, it has not addressed the underlying causes of persistent food insecurity. Our objectives were to (1) update U.S. agencies' responses to GAO's previous international food assistance recommendations and (2) identify potential oversight questions for congressional consideration.

Since 1996, we have published 18 products that provided insight, many with recommendations, on international food assistance. Specifically, in the past 3 years, we issued four reports with 16 recommendations to improve the efficiency of U.S. food aid and food security programs. Over the course of our work, we also identified improvements that were needed, as well as obstacles that affect the success of program planning and implementation. As a result, we have identified five issues for Congressional consideration to ensure more efficient and effective international food assistance: (1) coordination and integration, (2) needs assessments and market information, (3) transportation and logistics, (4) nutrition and food quality control, and (5) monitoring and evaluation.