skip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Building resilient food aid systems in humanitarian crises: How do humanitarian food aid systems promote food security for refugees and how can these systems be improved to be more resilient? A case study of Athens.

The recent surge in humanitarian crises has resulted in over 22.5 million displaced people in the last decade alone - an unprecedented global level. The current European refugee crisis is one of the largest allocations of humanitarian aid world-wide and, necessarily, aims at providing the most fundamental needs of those fleeing their home countries. Food and food security are essential to the survival and wellbeing of refugees and the recognition of this has placed the effective and reliable provision of food aid in humanitarian crises at the forefront of the global development agenda.

The ability of the food aid system to promote food security, and ultimately promote the resilience and self-reliance of an individual within such a system, is a poorly analysed dimension of humanitarian crises. In this paper, a case study is made of Athens, Greece where the humanitarian food aid system has been defined and then analysed to assess the efficacy of this system in promoting adequate food security. This paper aims to provide an insightful analysis of a reactionary food aid system and consequently provide robust recommendations aimed at fostering food security in future humanitarian crises.

Data on the food aid system and food security provisioning was collected through research, observational analysis and interviews in Athens. The architecture of the Athens system appeared to be fragmented, with many similar organisations acting as aid silos which serves to undermine the system-level resilience. The inherent weaknesses of the current system, from a beneficiary perspective, were identified as a need for greater connection among the system, access to the market and self-sufficiency aimed at enhancing individual autonomy, food security and resilience.

To achieve an acceptable level of food security, the food aid system must not be limited to one type of aid mechanism, system actor or solution. It must necessarily rely on a greater degree of connection between and amongst the various stakeholders. It is imperative to aim for a sustainable solution focused on individual autonomy and robust humanitarian development and to steer away from a reactionary aid system. NGOs and policy makers must work together towards creating impactful solutions to the various challenges inherent to the provision of food aid and therefore promote the wellbeing, self-sufficiency and empowerment of the most vulnerable.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.