Protection and HFA

In this section we will see why considering protection in humanitarian food assistance programmes is important, and how protection can be mainstreamed and integrated into humanitarian food assistance.

What is protection for the Commission?

The Commission defines humanitarian protection as addressing violence, coercion, deliberate deprivation and abuse for persons, groups and communities in the context of humanitarian crises, in compliance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence and within the legal frameworks of IHRL, IHL and Refugee Law.

In the context of humanitarian crises, the fundamental objective of protection strategies is to enhance physical and psychological security or, at least, to reduce insecurity, for persons, groups and communities under threat, to reduce the risk and extent of harm to populations by seeking to minimise threats of violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation, reduce vulnerability to such threats, and strengthen (self-protection) capacities as well as enhancing opportunities to obtain safety and dignity.

Why is protection important in Food Assistance programming?

Alongside food assistance measures that directly address food consumption requirements, complementary or supporting measures are considered vital. Protection is one of these complementary response options. In particular, the EU aims to ensure that, protection risks and protection opportunities are properly evaluated in considering the consequences of both intervention and non-intervention. See more details in the Thematic Policy Document No. 1.

This means that protection must be mainstreamed in all HFA programmes and that where protection risks may trigger, or arise from, acute food insecurity an integrated approach to HFA and protection should be applied.

What is protection mainstreaming?

Protection mainstreaming is protection as a cross-cutting theme, which implies incorporating protection principles, promoting meaningful access, safety and dignity, avoiding causing harm, and ensuring accountability, participation and empowerment in humanitarian aid. It refers to the imperative for each and every humanitarian actor to prevent, mitigate and respond to protection threats that are caused or perpetuated by humanitarian action/inaction by ensuring the respect of fundamental protection principles in humanitarian programmes – no matter what the sector or objectives.

What is protection integration?

Protection integration entails actively using other sectors, such as HFA, to achieve a protection outcome by aiming to prevent and respond to violence or threat of violence; coercion and exploitation; deliberate deprivation, neglect or discrimination, and supporting people to enjoy their rights in safety and with dignity.

How can we ensure that this approach is adopted in the framework of humanitarian food assistance programs?

First, it is essential to conduct an in-depth contextual analysis, because it will allow us to understand who are the persons or groups at risk, which are the threats they face, who are the perpetrators and how to design the action in a way to overcome, minimise and respond to these threats.

A protection analysis will therefore offer a more nuanced understanding of threats, vulnerabilities and capacities of the population in question, while at the same time allowing for more appropriately targeted interventions, helping to enhance the safety of the target group and minimising the risks resulting from the provision of humanitarian assistance.
Once done the analysis forms the basis for mainstreaming as well as integration.

Prioritize safety and dignity, and avoid causing harm

Prevent and minimize as much as possible any unintended negative effects of your intervention which can increase people’s vulnerability to both physical and psychosocial risks.
How (examples):
– Food, cash, vouchers or livestock interventions may make people more vulnerable to certain protection problems, such as attacks. The ownership or management of these types of assets,which may be particularly valuable in an emergency, may place people at greater risk of violence, abduction or abuse. Analysis of the local security environment including in relation to ownership patterns, recent history of looting or raiding, husbandry practices and the need to access livestock services or markets is necessary to identify highrisk practices and activities.

– Beneficiaries may face problems, particularly with sexual assault and robbery including at official or unofficial checkpoints while travelling to and from a distribution point. The environment through which beneficiaries must travel must be safe for all the people concerned. If safety is a problem special efforts should be made to move the point of delivery close to a beneficiary’s home or provide transport to ensure safety.

Meaningful Access

Arrange for people’s access to assistance and services – in proportion to need and without any barriers (e.g. discrimination). Pay special attention to individuals and groups who may be particularly vulnerable or have difficulty accessing assistance and services.

How could this be done? These are some examples:

  • If some individuals, for example, older persons or persons with disabilities, cannot access the services ensure that special arrangements are made to bring food or cash to them. It should not be assumed that friends and family will do it.
  • Activities must not discriminate against any group and must be performed in such a way that they cannot be perceived as doing so. Consider whether women and men may have different capacities to access cash compared with in kind resources.
  • Activities should promote and help protect and the rights of people who have historically been marginalised or discriminated against, such as certain castes, tribes or women and girls in some societies.


Set-up appropriate mechanisms through which affected populations can measure the adequacy of interventions, and address concerns and complaints.

For example, a complaints feedback mechanism should be established with a view to improving programming, assisting in understanding beneficiary and community perceptions, promoting beneficiary empowerment and assisting in the early detection of problems such as targeting, misconduct including sexual exploitation and abuse, food diversion and fraud.

Participation and empowerment

Support the development of self-protection capacities and assist people to claim their rights.

How (examples):
– Make sure beneficiaries know they have a right to equitable and safe assistance, and where and how to obtain it.
– Consult men, women, boys, girls, the elderly, and persons with disabilities to understand their needs and preferences for location, design, and methodology of assistance. Direct observation and discussion groups with representatives of the community to identify the adaptions that are needed for the most vulnerable.
– Ensure that food or livelihood committees are representative of all groups within the community (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic group, etc.). Include targeted measures to ensure the effective and meaningful participation of representatives of the all groups in the community.

If an integrated approach is considered appropriate the following should be considered

How can protection objectives and activities best help to achieve a HFA outcome and how can HFA objectives and activities best help achieve a protection outcome?

Key questions to discover this include:
– What is the violation or abuse faced by the persons/groups/communities; who is causing the violation or abuse; what is driving the abuse? Does the search for food security or livelihood opportunities increase the risk of succumbing to violence or abuse – e.g. using roads, going to the fields, etc. and/or does it increase resorting to dangerous coping mechanisms (such as begging, transactional sex)?
– What are the individual characteristics making people vulnerable to the threat? Livelihood activities, age, gender, length of exposure, location, ethnicity, disability, family status, health, local customs and regulations, etc.? Are certain groups at particular risk to food insecurity due to discriminatory practices?
– What capacities are there to build on to reduce the threats and vulnerabilities? Community organisation, alternative livelihood skills, relations with local authorities, etc.?

How to address – some examples

  • Could advocacy with the national army to remove illegal road blocks or stop extortion at road blocks be a way to increase freedom of movement and thus access to fields, markets and livelihoods?
  • Could support to obtaining lost ID cards contribute to improved access to food through better access to government safety net/humanitarian response programmes and mobile money transfers?
  • Could community-based protection committees facilitate a better risk analysis in the community thus increasing their capacity to safely carry out livelihood activities?
  • Could food assistance (cash, voucher, in-kind) to households forced to engage in risky behaviour in order to fulfil their food needs contribute to reducing their exposure to threats and abuse?
  • Could training in intensive agricultural techniques for people having lost access to large areas of land reduce their need to expose themselves to threats and abuse while farming?

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