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Lessons from Hunger Assessment in Africa

Photo from IMB.org

In the early 90s I witnessed a humanitarian committee wrestle with how to distribute a shipping container of high energy biscuits. Cultural issues became the defining guide as they discussed options. Everyone in the targeted distribution area lived in some level of poverty, and they had no objective way to narrow down who had the highest level of need. So the decision was made to give every person one small package of biscuits.  

In just a few hours the 20 foot ocean container was emptied with the biscuits consumed in one day. The donor agency intended to make a long term difference in the lives of the most needy, but the shipment was no more than a token gift to the entire community. I promised myself then that I would never be involved in this type of food distribution.

I am asked regularly by other organizations to fund a feeding program for people who are in need due to drought, long term poverty, or other chronic problems. When I ask what the plan is for assessing the needs in the community, I rarely get any type of objective information.  

We all have limited resources. Time, personnel, logistical support and funds restrict what we can do in a feeding situation. In order for these limited resources to make the largest impact we need to learn to assess well and use that information to develop a plan of response.

Here are some methods for assessment:

There is not one single method of assessment that is adequate to formulate a feeding response plan.  It takes a balance of information gathered from a wide range of resources.  Assessing hunger situations is not a quick exercise and weak assessments will yield weak responses.

As you begin to apply methods to assess needs, here are a few more tips:

I have seen babies being assessed in feeding centers that we knew would not live another day. It was simply too late to avoid the ravages of severe malnutrition due to long term hunger. I have also had the blessing to see lives changed and death avoided because of proper assessment and response. No one organization can do it all when it comes to feeding and hunger. Some would say it “takes a village” to make a difference. I believe it takes the Kingdom of God coming together with wise assessment and response plans that effectively apply available resources to hunger issues, while demonstrating the love of Christ in a physical way.  

Mark Hatfield has been involved in international community development for the 30 years he has resided in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mark and his wife Susan currently serve as the Sub-Saharan Africa Area Directors for Baptist Global Response. They have assisted in numerous hunger crises in Africa, and together they have trained many groups of national and international NGO workers in current community development and disaster response methods.