New International Food Assistance Convention To Take Effect On January 1

“A new international food assistance convention will come into force on January 1 next year after the European Union ratified it this week, but critics say it lacks teeth,” AlertNet reports. “The significance of the new Food Assistance Convention is that it marks a shift away from traditional food aid — sacks transported from overseas and handed out on the ground by relief workers,” the news service writes, adding the new convention says food distribution should be undertaken only when necessary, with cash or vouchers otherwise being distributed for people to purchase food within their own communities. “The new convention — negotiated by the E.U. and 35 countries (the E.U. states plus Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States) — also underlines the importance of linking short- and longer-term food assistance efforts, to enable people to become better prepared for future disasters or high food prices,” AlertNet states.

But some aid groups say the convention “does not include a concrete collective commitment on the amount of food aid its members will provide” and it “lacks strong enforcement mechanisms, meaning it cannot sanction member governments if they fail to comply,” AlertNet notes. The news service continues, “Aid groups say the United States — which provides around $2 billion in food aid reaching 65 million people each year, about half the world total of food aid — lags behind in adopting some of the innovative approaches recommended in the convention, particularly the move away from in-kind aid.” AlertNet adds, “While the new Food Assistance Convention also demands a shift in approach, political realities suggest it is unlikely to bring about a major transformation in U.S. aid policy any time soon” (Rowling, 11/15).