Food insecurity is one of the most pressing problems in the world today. A report by the United Nations in 2020 states that 690 million people around the world regularly go to bed hungry. According to the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, at least 155 million people in 55 countries were already acutely food insecure in 2020 and in need of urgent assistance.
The amount of people who are acutely food insecure has increased by 20 million since 2019. This sharp increase of critical hunger is commonly attributed to the physical and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that has robbed millions of lives, health, jobs, and money.
The second goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate world hunger by 2030. Every major organization and humanitarian agency that monitors food security, however, claims the world is no nearer to that goal than we were in 2015. In fact, the United Nations says, if recent trends continue, hunger will affect nearly 900 million people by 2030.
The crisis of world hunger is not going away. It is getting worse. Right now, more than a quarter billion people worldwide are on the brink of starvation. Hunger crises in Yemen, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Venezuela only add to the urgency of the crisis—a crisis made far worse by the ongoing fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Acute Food Insecurity?
According to the Global Network Against Food Crises—an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, and other nongovernmental agencies—acute food insecurity is, “when a person’s inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.”
In a word: starvation.
Starvation occurs in conflict zones like Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence disrupts the food chain and the ability to farm.
Starvation occurs in arid climates like Madagascar and South Sudan, where erosion and increasing desertification create droughts and other conditions hostile to growing food.
Starvation occurs in unpredictable and erratic climates like those found in Central America, Mozambique, and the Philippines, where climate change continues to widen the disparity between seasonal floods and seasonal droughts.
Starvation occurs worldwide. If recent trends persist, millions more each year will experience the hunger, malnutrition, and hopelessness of starvation.
Because of these alarming trends, ADRA continues to fight hunger and starvation.
Our Disaster Risk Reduction projects are designed to mitigate the factors that lead to acute food insecurity, but in dire situations that propel entire communities to the brink of starvation, food vouchers have proven to be the most effective strategy to save lives.
What is a Food Voucher?
A food voucher is a print or digital coupon that allows for the purchase of goods from local businesses. Aspects of the voucher are variable across programs where ADRA implements food vouchers, such as the dollar equivalent, the expiration date, the minimum purchase requirements, types of participating businesses, and the platform—electronic or print—but the purpose and function is the same: to connect hungry people with lifesaving resources.
How do Food Vouchers Help Fight Food Insecurity?
ADRA uses food vouchers in regions where food insecurity destabilizes communities and families. Regions like Yemen, Brazil, and Honduras.
In Yemen, for example, which is one the poorest countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, ADRA has been using food vouchers to stabilize hungry families and desperate businesses since 2012. This long-running program has helped thousands across multiple initiatives. The most recent project is called Food Assistance for Abyan, Al-Dhale’e, and Lahj (FAADL), a project that provided food vouchers to 8,158 households in the target areas.
Food vouchers are proven to be one of the most effective ways to fight food insecurity, and ADRA continues to develop and improve our food voucher projects in hard-hit regions around the world.
Below are five reasons ADRA uses, and will continue to use, food vouchers to help end acute food insecurity.
1. Food Vouchers Preserve Dignity
Food vouchers empower people to make decisions for their own households and allow for a continued sense of freedom. Instead of having a uniform ration for every household, each household can purchase according to their individual and unique needs.
ADRA conducts nutrition promotion activities for beneficiaries and defines the food groups that can be purchased, but there is still room, not only for freedom of choice, but also for culturally appropriate foods that beneficiaries are accustomed to and are willing to consume.
2. Food Vouchers Empower Local Markets
Going beyond providing the immediate need for food, ADRA also considers the greater impact on a community’s ability to recover. This effort to help communities recover and individuals to re-establish their livelihoods is best supported through existing market structures, which will also help return food prices to more affordable levels.
Even in places like Yemen, where the conflict is devastating and the situation dire, there are still functioning markets. ADRA has worked with various vendors in past interventions and many of those vendors are eager to work with ADRA. In contrast, the distribution of food can be harmful to local markets as it floods the market with goods procured from non-local vendors.
3. Food Vouchers are Time Sensitive
Working with vouchers allows for timeliness in addressing emergency needs. Conducting an in-kind distribution of food requires a longer timeframe to build necessary systems and processes, hire the right staff, determine transportation needs and obstacles, and other logistical considerations.
A voucher system is paramount for ADRA to provide the critical aid in a reasonable amount of time with already existing markets. Vendors are often selected from the target areas to guarantee the support of existing supply chains and minimize logistic planning and transportation needs. Once the vendors and beneficiaries are selected, the distribution itself is quickly organized.
4. Food Vouchers Reduce Security Risks
The utilization of vouchers instead of in-kind commodities mitigates security risks for ADRA staff. ADRA does not have to be responsible for transporting food from warehouses, over long distances, and through potentially dangerous areas, to distribution sites that could expose ADRA staff to the risk of violence or kidnapping.
Vouchers mitigate the exposure of beneficiaries as well. It allows them to choose their nearest vendor instead of going to one set distribution point and carrying food items long distances, exposing them to the risk of theft or potential harm. Additionally, vouchers reduce risk for both staff and beneficiaries because the voucher can only be used in approved shops, making it less attractive to thieves.
5. Food Vouchers Generate Data to Monitor and Improve Projects
Food vouchers come with unique identification for each beneficiary, which allows ADRA to monitor activity. The ability to monitor helps ADRA track nutrition habits, which in turn provides data about which nutrition messages should be developed further to promote proper nutrition for food-insecure households.
By generating data and monitoring the nuances of each cash voucher program, ADRA can assess and improve the project in ways that would not be possible with cash or food distributions. This process of feedback ensures that the lifesaving work we do is designed and implemented properly, allowing for even more people to get the exact help they need.
“God Will Send Someone to Help Us.”
Ahmed knows the pain and fear of food insecurity. The 61-year-old father has seen firsthand how the conflict in Yemen has hurt his family. Because two of his children suffer from chronic diseases, nearly all his meager salary has gone to medical bills, leaving almost nothing left to feed his family.
“I cannot stop worrying about my family,” he said. “I feel helpless when I think of my children’s needs.”
Today, Ahmed does not have to worry about how he will feed his family. Because he is a recipient of the ADRA food voucher program in Yemen, his basic nutritional needs are met.
“I knew that one day God will send someone to help us,” he said. “Our living conditions are better now. I do not worry about providing food, I know I can rely on ADRA for now.”
Ahmed and his family are among the 134,648 people who have received food vouchers from ADRA—in Yemen alone.
ADRA continues to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus all around the world for those who are hungry. By empowering vulnerable people and businesses, we are fighting against the alarming trends of acute food insecurity.
You can join the fight. Donate to ADRA and help someone like Ahmed.