Responding to the development emergency caused by COVID-19: WFP’s medium-term programme framework (June 2020)

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Executive summary

Addressing the “development emergency” low and middle-income countries are facing due to the scale and scope of the global COVID-19 pandemic requires a comprehensive and integrated response which upholds humanitarian and human rights standards. The World Food Programme (WFP) is uniquely positioned to support governments, local organizations and other partners to quickly adapt, design and deliver their own interventions. Thanks to its presence and capacity in over 80 countries, WFP can also rapidly scale-up and directly deliver complementary programmes where required.

A crisis that will affect new populations

The impact of COVID-19 will disproportionately affect low and middle-income countries and could lead to a food security and nutrition crisis of historic proportions. More than 800 million people around the world were food insecure before this crisis. An additional 200 million are expected to lose access to basic food and nutrition in the months ahead.

Health care systems in these countries are likely to be overwhelmed, while the combination of a sharp global recession and dependence on volatile import, export and credit markets threatens trade, generates unemployment and loss of income, and constrains the ability of countries to respond to rapidly increasing needs. Food insecurity and malnutrition are projected to deepen among poor and marginalized populations – with estimates indicating the number of people suffering from acute hunger could double – and expand among groups that were previously able to meet their own needs. People at particular risk include those living in densely populated urban areas and camps, those who rely on markets for access to food, people employed in the informal sector, and school-aged children and their families. Structural and socio-economic inequalities based on gender, age, disability, income and other factors will be exacerbated, and compound the risk of hunger.

In the face of these challenges, WFP will support governments through three programme pillars that are central to effective, efficient, and equitable responses and where WFP has demonstrated value as a partner to governments, UN Agencies and International Financial Institutions. These are:


As the pandemic threatens to deepen existing vulnerabilities and create new ones, WFP will help governments to design, adapt and implement social assistance interventions that respond to the impacts of COVID-19 and to strengthen existing shock-responsive social protection systems. Drawing on decades of experience in safety-net programming in crisis contexts, and on extensive technical expertise in analysis, assessment, programme design, in-kind and cash delivery systems and accountability to affected populations, WFP can help governments to:

  • increase understanding of needs and changing vulnerabilities arising from the crisis;

  • adapt existing safety nets to increase the value or coverage of in-kind or cash-based social assistance;

  • establish new schemes to reach populations that are not covered by current safety nets;

  • maintain programmes that protect populations from other shocks, like extreme climate events, that will compound COVID.


WFP can support governments in continuing to ensure essential nutrition and school-based services to protect children and women, build human capital and enable recovery.

School-based programmes – Due to COVID-related school closures, 370 million school children are currently missing out on school meals. In countries across the globe, school feeding programmes provide a crucial and widespread safety net that supports children and their families. Recognizing their importance, many countries are adapting programmes to continue supporting children during school closures. As some countries will soon turn their attention towards school reopening, meals and health programmes can provide incentives for families to send their children back to school. Without them, many – especially girls – won’t resume their education, resulting in a lost generation that will never recover from this crisis.

Based on its global experience and partnerships, WFP is uniquely positioned to:

  • support school reopening: WFP, the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF have developed a framework to support national preparations to safely reopen schools. WFP and UNICEF have also launched a global health and nutrition campaign to support return to school. Working with partners, WFP can help governments put in place robust school feeding and health programmes, ensure appropriate physical distancing and prevention efforts, and promote proper water, sanitation and hygiene services for school children and staff ;

  • advise governments on alternative ways to deliver school feeding programmes while schools are closed, and support linkages with social safety nets.

Nutrition – It is essential that nutritionally vulnerable populations do not get left behind or deprioritized during the COVID-19 response. Many countries will have to dramatically shift the way at-risk groups, especially women, infants and young children, receive preventive and lifesaving support as movement restrictions and service prioritization affect access to clinics and nutrition services.

WFP can leverage existing partnerships and support governments to:

  • deliver essential medicines, non-pharmaceutical supplies and specialized nutritious foods;

  • shift service delivery from health facilities to the communities;

  • scale-up interventions for individuals whose nutritional status has been affected by the pandemic;

  • use data collection and analysis to assess access to food and nutrition, identify the most vulnerable populations, and target key interventions for the delivery of preventive services;

  • advocate for the strengthening of services for those at risk of being left behind in the response.

3. FOOD SYSTEMS – The COVID-19 pandemic is placing significant stress on all components of food systems (production, trade and distribution, and consumption), threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people. Sustaining, protecting and improving food systems during the crisis is vital to reduce economic and food insecurity risks to communities, especially the most vulnerable, and enable a quicker and more inclusive recovery.

WFP can build on its partnerships to support governments and work with actors along the food value chain – from farmers to traders, processors, distributors, and retailers to:

  • sustain and strengthen market functions by leveraging WFP’s supply chain expertise to help ensure food availability, also through the procurement and provision of timely market information;

  • increase smallholder farmers’ productivity and reduce post-harvest loss by supporting producers’ access to seeds, fertilizers, assets, services and markets;

  • protect the livelihoods of smallholder value chain actors through programmes that create income and job opportunities;

  • ensure the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable populations are met by linking to social protection and nutrition systems and through interventions such as home-grown school feeding.

Across these three areas – social protection systems, basic service delivery and food systems – WFP will support national responses to save lives and protect livelihoods while strengthening systems to reinforce government leadership and accountability.

With a focus on the countries, groups and people most at risk of being left behind, WFP’s actions will help achieve the objectives of the integrated support package offered by the United Nations Development System to protect the needs and rights of people living under the duress of the pandemic.