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Food banks are essential to disaster relief — there should be no discussion over it

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

For over a year, the world has been experiencing the tragic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Beyond the human toll and suffering in eastern Europe, the war has exposed and exacerbated a global hunger crisis.

While international aid groups are often best positioned to respond at times of crisis, community-based organisations, such as food banks, serve as vital partners in the face of food insecurity.

The data is clear, yet the picture is grim. One in three people worldwide faces food insecurity today. 

Earlier this month, the World Food Programme reported that 349 million people across 79 countries would experience acute food shortages this year.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine has driven fertiliser and fuel prices higher and disrupted the global food supply.

Food banks have the local know-how to handle the toughest of crises

Beyond the conflict in Ukraine, the food crisis has been compounded by other recent devastating disasters. 

The severe drought in Africa has brought many in the region to the brink of famine. Last year’s floods in Pakistan caused a drop in rice exports while leading to a spike in rice prices.

On top of 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.

While 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 that community-led organisations play. 

Food banks tap into local knowledge and networks to provide a steady supply of culturally appropriate food.

When an emergency strikes, they can mobilise to identify needy populations, collect food and distribute it quickly.

From Ukraine to Turkey, food banks are key in helping those in need

At the start of the conflict in Ukraine, food banks began to support people in the country and the surrounding areas. 

Food banks helped get aid to refugees, especially the elderly, women and children, in nearby countries like 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, the Ukraine Food Bank Federation, to direct food to people in the conflict zone, especially in eastern Ukraine. 

In total, more than 25 food banking organisations across Europe have responded, providing food to millions of people.

Similarly, within hours of the earthquakes striking in Turkey and Syria, TIDER, a member of The Global Foodbanking Network, dispatched relief packages to people in the affected area. 

As a member of Afet Platformu, which coordinates emergency relief activities among more than 20 non-governmental organisations 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-time disaster relief

Food banks do not only play a role in sudden-onset emergencies. 

In the Horn of Africa, a climate change-fueled drought — including five consecutive failed rainy seasons — is leading to widespread disruption of local food production. 

In response, Food Banking Kenya is using its networks to provide food to communities, including the Maasai indigenous people, whose nomadic traditions make them hard to reach. 

The Kenyan food bank has partnered with guides, church groups, and other partners to identify needs, cover inaccessible terrain, and distribute food to these communities.

While the concept of food banking is well-established in the US, Europe, and most developed countries, the role of food banks is less well-understood in developing countries. 

To expand the impact of these organisations, food banks need greater attention and support globally and nationally. 

For example, governments can enact policies that provide tax incentives or limit liability for farmers and businesses that donate food. 

No debate needed over food crisis response

Governments can also direct resources to food banks through disaster and development funding allocations. 

Local leaders can help by raising awareness of how food banks strengthen and enhance long-term resilience in communities.

Importantly, food banks do not seek to replace the role of governments or relief organisations, but they can be a nimble 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’s great uncertainty and discord in the world today, the need for an urgent response to the multiple intersecting food crises is one place where there’s no debate.

_Lisa Moon is President and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network, an international non-governmental organisation supporting community-led solutions for hunger in over 50 countries worldwide.

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