Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


David Fisher

First Page



A rich and varied literature has grown up around food aid,' in particular with regard to its use as a development tool, in response to slow-onset disasters (such as droughts and desertification), and in armed conflicts. Given that these applications make up the bulk of the millions of tons of food aid recorded annually and present some of the thorniest operational issues, perhaps it is not surprising that the regulation of food aid provided in sudden-impact disasters (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, wind storms, and floods) has not been as thoroughly examined.

Still, while the amount of food involved is comparatively small, the lives and dignity of millions of people depend on speedy, effective, and appropriate food assistance in sudden-impact disasters as well. In practice, regulatory problems pose significant obstacles to meeting this need. While there are some relevant international instruments and norms, they have had less impact than might be hoped in addressing the most common operating issues. Moreover, existing international standards on food aid fail to address the particular dynamics of sudden-impact disasters, do not go far enough to link food assistance to other sectors of disaster relief, and ignore the growing role of the non-governmental and private sectors in disaster relief. Since reform is currently in the air in global food aid, this is also the time to address these related issues.

Part II of this Article will provide some background on food aid in sudden-impact disasters as a subset of global food aid and signal some trends in the composition of the aid-providing community. Part III will look to some examples of common legal problems in providing food aid, including not only regulation of the food itself but also indirect barriers to importing and distributing the right food at the right time. Part IV will examine existing international law in light of these common problems. Part V will offer some thoughts on one way forward on these issues.