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For over a year, the world has experienced the tragic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to the human toll and suffering in Eastern Europe, the war has revealed and exacerbated a global hunger crisis.
While international aid groups are often best suited to respond in times of crisis, community-based organizations, such as food banks, serve as important partners in the face of food insecurity.
The data is clear, but the picture is bleak. One in three people worldwide today face an uncertainty about food.
Earlier this month, the World Food Program reported that 349 million people in 79 countries would experience acute food shortages this year.
At the same time, the conflict in Ukraine has driven up fertilizer and fuel prices and disrupted the global food supply.
Food banks have the local know-how to handle the toughest crises
In addition to the conflict in Ukraine, the food crisis has been exacerbated by other recent devastating disasters.
The severe drought in Africa has brought many in the region to the brink of starvation. Last year’s floods in Pakistan caused a drop in rice exports while leading to a spike in rice prices.
In addition to these crises, the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria killed over 45,000 people and left many more in need of food, shelter and emergency supplies.
Although the causes of food insecurity are complex and difficult to address, the important role of food banks is clear.
As part of the world’s largest network of food banks, we know firsthand the role community-led organizations play.
Food banks leverage local knowledge and networks to provide a steady supply of culturally appropriate food.
When an emergency strikes, they can mobilize to identify populations in need, collect food and distribute it quickly.
From Ukraine to Turkey, food banks are key to helping those in need
At the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, food banks began to support people in the country and the surrounding areas.
Food banks helped bring aid to refugees, especially the elderly, women and children, in neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania and Moldova.
In October 2022, The Global Foodbanking Network and the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) established a new food bank network in Ukraine, Ukraine Food Bank Federation, to direct food to people in the conflict zone, especially in eastern Ukraine.
In total, more than 25 food bank organizations across Europe have responded and provided food to millions of people.
Likewise, within hours of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, TIDER, a member of The Global Foodbanking Network, sent relief packages to people in the affected area.
As a member of Afet Platformu, which coordinates emergency relief activities among more than 20 NGOs in Turkey, TIDER has leveraged its community-led approach to provide earthquake survivors with food, health and hygiene products.
It’s not just about one-off disaster relief
Food banks don’t just play a role in sudden emergencies.
In the Horn of Africa, a climate change-driven drought – including five failed rainy seasons in a row – is leading to widespread disruption to local food production.
In response, Food Banking Kenya uses its networks to provide food to communities, including the Maasai indigenous people, whose nomadic traditions make them difficult to reach.
The Kenyan Food Bank has collaborated with guides, church groups and other partners to identify needs, cover inaccessible terrain and distribute food to these communities.
While the concept of food banks is well established in the US, Europe and most developed countries, the role of food banks is less well known in developing countries.
To expand the impact of these organizations, food banks need greater attention and support globally and nationally.
For example, governments may adopt policies that provide tax incentives or limit liability for farmers and businesses that donate food.
There is no need for debate about the response to the food crisis
Governments can also direct resources to food banks through disaster and development funding.
Local leaders can help by raising awareness of how food banks strengthen and improve long-term resilience in communities.
Importantly, food banks do not seek to replace the role of governments or aid organizations, but can be a flexible and effective complement to their work.
With greater awareness and support, community-based food banks can be better prepared before crises strike and support communities long after emergency responders have moved on.
Although there is great uncertainty and disagreement in the world today, the need for an urgent response to the multiple intersecting food crises is a place where there is no debate.
_Lisa Moon is President and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network, an international non-governmental organization that supports community-led solutions to hunger in over 50 countries worldwide.
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