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What is IPC?

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a common global scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and malnutrition. It is the result of a partnership of various organizations at global, regional and country levels dedicated to developing and maintaining the highest possible quality in food security and nutrition analysis. IPC is increasingly the international standard for classifying food insecurity and malnutrition. 

IPC is a “big-picture” classification focusing on providing information that is consistently required by stakeholders around the world for strategic decision-making. Nuanced information may also be needed to inform particular decisions or answer certain questions.  The IPC provides the essential information needed in a wide range of contexts and does so in consistent, comparable and accountable ways.

  • IPC communicates actionable information for strategic decision making. It analyses and consolidates complex food security and nutrition information and presents it in a simple and accessible form. IPC provides the evidence base to assess the situation: how severe, how many, when, where, why, who, as well as key characteristics. Together, these questions help inform the “Situation Analysis”, which is the focus of the IPC.  
  • IPC estimates the number of people affected at different severities of food insecurity and malnutrition and communicates the key drivers and characteristics of the situation, providing decision-makers with key information to support response-planning.
  • IPC distinguishes between acute food insecurity, chronic food insecurity and acute malnutrition, as different interventions are needed to address each situation. Furthermore, the understanding of their co-existence and relationship is invaluable for strategic decision-making. IPC is a platform for presenting the linkages between food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as acute and chronic food insecurity, to support more integrated and better coordinated response-planning.

What is IPC not?

  • A methodology for directly measuring food insecurity or malnutrition or limited to particular analytical methodologies - it draws from multiple methodologies and secondary sources and calls for a critical review of all relevant evidence.
  • An information collecting tool or an information system - although it may inform data collection and highlight information gaps, it is only a complementary add-on to existing systems and tools.
  • A tool for monitoring and evaluating or for response analysis - IPC classifies the current and projected situation considering the inherent complexity of food security and nutrition analysis and although valuable to support response analysis, the findings are not adequate for monitoring and evaluating the response or the achievement of development goals.

Why is IPC needed?

Within the inherently complex, multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral fields of food security and nutrition, there was a widespread need for an analytical approach that was robust and transparent, comparable and applicable across locations, and relevant for decision-making. To meet this challenge, IPC has become a global reference for classification of food insecurity (and increasingly for acute malnutrition) because it is:

  • Generic enough to be utilized in an array of food security and nutrition situations and contexts;
  • Simple enough to be practical and understandable at field level, making it useful for multiple stakeholders; and
  • Rigorous enough to become an international standard.

How does IPC work?

IPC makes the best use of the evidence available and does so through a transparent, traceable, and rigorous process.  Evidence requirements to complete classification have been developed considering the range of circumstances in which evidence quality and  quantity may be limited, while ensuring adherence to minimum standards. To ensure the application of IPC in settings where access to collect evidence is limited or non-existent, specialized parameters have been developed.  IPC provides a structured process for making the best assessment of the situation based on what is known, and presents the limitations to its classifications as part of the process.   

There are three IPC Scales: Acute Food Insecurity, Acute Malnutrition and Chronic Food InsecurityEach scale classifies a specific condition that is linked to particular responses.

IPC consists of four functions, all of which to be followed to conclude classification and to generate IPC information products. Each function has a specific purpose and a set of protocols to guide analysts. The completion of all protocols is fundamental to the IPC as they ensure that analyses are rigorous, neutral and accountable.  The Four Functions include:

  • Function 1: Build Technical Consensus 
  • Function 2: Classify Severity and Identify Key Drivers
  • Function 3: Communicate for Action
  • Function 4: Quality Assurance 

All three scales follow exactly the same protocols within the functions but contain adapted tools and procedures to allow analysts to untangle the different conditions. By sharing the same protocols, IPC promotes the application of multiple scales in the same country.  

The IPC process begins with the formation of an in-country Working Group (referred to as the IPC Technical Working Group, or TWG), usually hosted by the government and comprised of relevant national stakeholders, usually including representatives of the government, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  These TWGs can be either new groups or embedded within existing coordination structures. The TWGs are the foundation of country-level implementation, and are crucial for ensuring the consistency, sustainability and use of IPC. 

What is IPC's added value?

Since its introduction in 2004, IPC has become the internationally accepted reference for analysis of food security and, increasingly, for acute malnutrition crises.  As such, IPC holds considerable advantages for both analysts and decision-makers alike, including: 

Setting a common global standard for food security, malnutrition and famine classification:

  • IPC provides a common language for classifying the severity and magnitude of acute and chronic food insecurity and acute malnutrition. It is applicable across and between regions and countries, over time.
  • IPC sets the global standards for famine classification. Famine is the most severe Phase of IPC. It exists in areas where at least one in five households has or is most likely to have an extreme deprivation of food. Starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition are or will be evident. Significant mortality, directly attributable to outright starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease, is or will be occurring.
  • Reliable, good-quality data are vital for well-informed, rigorous food security and nutrition analysis and classifications. IPC strongly recommends that national data collection systems adhere to global standards for collection and analysis of food security and nutrition indicators. However, because such data are often unavailable for the geographical unit under analysis, IPC allows classification to be done with somewhat reliable evidence, provided that a minimum set of data exists and that all IPC protocols are followed. It is the Four IPC Functions and their methodical protocols that allow classifications to be done even when adequate evidence is not available.
  • Decision makers need to be able to compare the situations from one place to another, both within and across countries. IPC facilitates such comparative analysis by providing globally accepted and widely adopted criteria for food security and nutrition classification.

Creating a platform for building evidence-based consensus among key stakeholders:

  • IPC can be applied in almost any situation, in both rural and urban settings, and is supported by rigorous protocols which allow the use of a wide range of evidence.  Evidence is framed in the applicable national context and analysed against global references through a consensus-based approach led by teams of experienced analysts.
  • IPC is an approach to consolidate complex evidence from different methods, sources and periods, following a set of specific protocols. Although IPC identifies selected indicators, it also requires the inclusion of other supporting evidence and consideration of local and historical contexts.
  • Situations involving food-insecure and malnourished populations are multifaceted and complex, subject to interpretation by multiple stakeholders at the macro, sectoral and local levels. IPC serves as a platform to bring together stakeholders from all levels, in order to facilitate a consensus-based approach to understanding the problem. One of the hallmarks of IPC is the multisectoral cooperation and technical consensus, which ensures that the results of the analysis are widely accepted and acted upon, thus promoting responses that are better coordinated and targeted, and more effective.
  • In an IPC analysis, a meticulous process tracks every decision (and the data supporting it) from start to finish. Findings are based on consensus and endorsed by stakeholders, ensuring ownership throughout the classification process. IPC therefore provides high levels of both credibility (in that the analysis process can be clearly followed) and dependability (open to external checks and review), reinforced by a comprehensive Quality Assurance process.

- Implementing a process that consolidates wide-ranging evidence into knowledge for taking action towards food security and nutrition:

  • IPC classification is often conducted in situations where limited access prevents humanitarian organizations from reaching certain areas. This is especially the case in situations of conflict. By de facto, areas that cannot be reached are often most affected by food insecurity and acute malnutrition, and available data are limited. To support response planning, IPC Classifications can be done under these conditions, provided that minimum evidence is available, with the recognition that this analysis will provide less specific and less accurate information as a result.
  • IPC allows time series–based trend analysis to facilitate understanding of the evolution of situations as they unfold in order to determine the short- and medium-term strategic response priorities.
  • Decision-makers need forecasting of the potential timing, severity and magnitude of any forthcoming crisis. Without a common technical understanding to describe crises, early warning messages can be ambiguous and go unheeded. IPC provides clear protocols for projecting and communicating potential critical situations, informing early relief planning to prevent or limit the severity of forecasted acute food insecurity and acute malnutrition.  
  • IPC food security and nutrition situation analyses are fully transparent in how findings were reached and conclusions were made, ensuring credibility at every stage of the process. IPC establishes clear protocols to support and guide high standards of transparency and rigour.  As IPC draws on existing evidence in the public domain, all underlying data should be accessible to anyone. Furthermore, analysis worksheets should be made available upon request.

What are key challenges and limitations of IPC?

  • Consensus-building is a time-consuming process, and agreement is not always reachable. The consensus-building process represents the cornerstone of every analysis exercise, and as an approach, sets IPC apart.  However, it is time-consuming and requires careful stewardship to mitigate against bias, encourage openness and, in some cases, reconcile interpersonal conflict. In contexts in which rigid hierarchies are the norm, this process can prove complex to navigate, and remains an ongoing challenge. The time required to build technical consensus and the contextual factors at play need to be well understood from the onset.
  • The “convergence of evidence” approach often identifies contradictory evidence. IPC Reference Tables provide commonly accepted thresholds and approaches. Although they guide convergence, they do not provide a definitive classification and it is not a guarantee that indicators will align. Analysts commonly face divergent and contradicting data due to context- specific issues, indicator validity and reliability of evidence.  Divergent data can lead to differences of opinion; although IPC has been developed precisely to embrace and identify reasons for divergence, lack of convergence can result in failing to attain consensus, making the process more time-consuming.
  • IPC classification is only as robust as the evidence used and how it is analysed. IPC does not collect primary data and is reliant on existing evidence. IPC may provide a useful platform for identifying critical data gaps, but it does not have the means to directly address them. IPC can thus act as a stimulus to improve data availability and quality, but this depends on the efforts of external parties. The usual limited data availability for vulnerable subgroups, such as refugees, displaced populations and marginalized groups, as well as for areas with limited  access to collect evidence is of particular concern in this regard. In addition, high-quality data does not guarantee accurate classification, as available information must be critically analysed.
  • Analysis of drivers does not always meet decision makers’ needs. Although IPC supports identification of key drivers, it does not provide the details required to develop sector-specific response plans, especially those focusing on addressing structural causes of food insecurity and malnutrition. In this regard, the food security and nutrition context at subnational level may require additional, in-depth analyses which provide greater details on causality, drivers and structural factors which contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition.
  • Analysis planning is not always aligned with country response processes. The relevance of IPC to inform decision- making depends on the ability of countries to align data collection and analyses processes with decision-making processes. When not aligned, evidence generated by IPC may not be optimally used for programming and policy decision-making. 
  • In-country resourcing of IPC is variable. IPC implementation is contingent on time, place and human and financial resources available. IPC global partners’ representation at national level may not have the required resources or skill set to support the introduction or institutionalization of IPC in-country. At the planning stages, it is essential to ensure that the overall resources required are well identified, and that solutions for any major gaps are sought. In the planning process, care should be taken to consider: (i) availability of requisite financial and human resources to conduct analysis at the intended unit of analysis; and (ii) the feasibility of the number of units to be analysed and classified. The scope of analysis should be adjusted based on what is affordable and feasible.
  • IPC classification is not a guarantee that the requisite action will follow. IPC is a basis for providing information for decision-making, but decisions taken as a result of IPC classification are a separate and distinct process. 

What is IPC's relevance for decision-makers?

The IPC is designed to provide evidence-based analysis to guide strategic decision-making, providing decision-makers with clear, well-presented information on food security and nutrition situations in a reliable, consistent and accessible form. IPC provides a general classification of the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and acute malnutrition, and identifies key characteristics and drivers. 

IPC follows a rigorous and globally comparable approach, and has proven to be valuable for awareness-raising and advocacy and to inform strategic response planning in the fields of food security and nutrition, as in the case of Humanitarian Needs Overview and Response Plans.  IPC responds to six key questions of how severe, how many, when, where, why and who, as well as identifies key characteristics of the situation.

IPC provides decision-makers with an analysis of fundamental aspects of a current or projected situation. As such, although IPC supports response analysis by providing invaluable information on the complex food security and nutrition conditions, following stages of response planning and implementation should also consider other issues, such as operational and financial constraints.   

Furthermore, although IPC provides general estimates of the size of food insecurity and malnutrition to support more strategic response analysis, the scope, methods, purpose and meaning of the numbers are not to be used to monitor and evaluate response and achievement of development goals. Instead, monitoring and evaluation systems which have the overall objectives to assess achievements based on a precise detection of changes on certain key indicators should be used to assess impact and achievements. IPC Acute Food Insecurity analysis may identify areas that would probably be in at least one Phase worse in the absence of received or planned humanitarian food assistance. The identification of these areas has the objective to raise awareness of decision-makers about the presence of significant humanitarian food assistance which may be or will be affecting Phase classification.

The situation analysis provided by IPC and the consequential and circular stages of response analysis, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation are all indispensable for more strategic, responsible and timely action. 

IPC and the Key Stages of the Analysis-Response Continuum:

IPC Situation Analysis: Identifies fundamental aspects of current or projected situation (e.g. severity, magnitude, nature and drivers). IPC provides invaluable and rigorous evidence-based information consistently needed for response analysis.

Response Analysis: Identifies where assistance should be continued, scaled up or down, terminated or initiated and what are the most effective and efficient responses. Although based on situation analysis, it also considers other issues, such as operational, logistical, financial and security constraints and opportunities, as well as analysis of the most appropriate modalities for response.

Response Planning: To identify and put in place operational requirements and systems to enable an effective and efficient response. These include logistics, financing, institutional partnerships, advocacy and training.

Response Implementation: To implement multiple operational modalities towards an effective and efficient response.

Monitoring and Evaluation: To determine degrees of desired impact and/or achievements towards goals of policy, programme and/or project outputs and overall impact; and to inform adjustments in the response as necessary. 

What is IPC's relevance for analysts?

At the country and professional levels, IPC holds a number of advantages, including:

  • Country level
  1. IPC promotes country leadership and ownership and supports analytical independence. It engages with and is reliant on country-based experts, and not on externally driven process. IPC builds the in-country capacity for trainers, analysts and decision-makers themselves, through a wide-ranging portfolio of capacity development initiatives including trainings, cross-country learning and certification, with the objective of countries being able to conduct analyses without relying on external support.
  2. IPC promotes cross-sectoral engagement between different stakeholders from relief and development, including governments, donors, UN agencies, NGOs and more, among both analysts and decision-makers. It promotes holistic, wide-ranging consideration of multiple topic domains relevant to food security and nutrition. 
  3. IPC also promotes analysis consistent with global standards, thus allowing countries to make best use of global practices and generate products that are of better quality.
  • Professional level
  1. IPC provides exposure to the conceptual approach and overall analytical framework of the IPC, supporting the development of a set of skills applicable in any food security or malnutrition context and providing food security and malnutrition analysts with a standard knowledge base.
  2. IPC implementation is built upon a solid training and certification strategy with opportunities for certification as analyst (Level 1) and trainer/facilitator (Level 2).  As part of the certification process, analysts engage in IPC as both participants and facilitators, providing them with valuable professional skills.  Capacity-building opportunities via cross-country learning experiences expose analysts to food security and malnutrition analysis outside of their own countries, providing international experience.
  3. IPC facilitates access to all the basic templates, guidelines, procedures, supporting documentation and remote support necessary to undertake a full analysis meeting global standards.
  4. Via its Community of Practice platform and through professional formal and informal networking, IPC fosters a global community of food security and nutrition analysts which promotes one-to-one technical support, professional opportunities and information exchanges across and between individual analysts.  

Finally, both at country and professional levels, IPC is accessible, free and easy to use. Understanding of IPC is supported by a range of structures, including support provided by the GSU, IPC partner organizations and the global and regional networks of IPC certified trainers/facilitators.

What is the IPC Analysis Cycle?

The IPC Analysis Cycle includes four inter-linked stages that need to be followed for each IPC analysis in order to produce high-quality products and effectively communicate results. An analysis cycle, excluding planning and lessons learning, usually takes between one and three months, although chronic food insecurity classifications may take longer depending on the analysis coverage and other parameters. 

  • Plan: TWGs should develop annual calendars, taking into account seasonal considerations and decision makers’ needs. As IPC Acute classifications are based on recent data, the calendar should foresee that IPC analyses are preceded by data collection. At this stage, the TWG should define the unit of analysis, geographic coverage and validity period for each planned analysis. Along with the calendar, financial requirements and resources for IPC implementation should be identified. At this stage, a communication plan should be developed to ensure that IPC findings are timely and efficiently communicated. For Acute classifications, annual planning should be directly linked to the Humanitarian Programme Cycle – including the development of the Humanitarian Needs Overview/Humanitarian Response Plan – when the cluster system is activated. The TWG should thus plan IPC activities in close collaboration with both Food Security and Nutrition Clusters. IPC planning should be flexible enough to allow IPC acute analyses to be called in response to unforeseen events (e.g. sudden onset crisis). 
  • Prepare: Preparing includes activities to ensure that analysts are adequately trained and that requests for external technical support, including communication support, are secured as needed. At this stage, the TWG should proceed with logistical and financial arrangements and ensure that relevant stakeholders are informed about the analysis process and dates. During preparation, the TWG should confirm the unit of analysis and geographic scope foreseen in the planning stage as well as identify, gather and re-analyse evidence as needed and feasible. At this stage, all evidence should be evaluated against the reliability criteria and organized and included in the analysis worksheets. During this process, analysts should ensure that minimum evidence requirements will be met. Preparations should also extend to communication activities, such as preparing dissemination events. Preparation can take from one week to a few months depending on the Scale being used and the amount of data re-analysis needed. 
  • Analyse and Communicate: At the core of IPC analysis is the workshop itself, where the TWG convenes analysts from relevant agencies and sectors to undertake the convergence of evidence following the IPC protocols, agree on classification and population estimates, complete the IPC Report, conduct a self-assessment exercise and request a Quality Review if needed. Once the analysis has been completed, the TWG is encouraged to hold a meeting with decision-makers to present and discuss the findings; then IPC communication products are strategically disseminated as soon as possible after completion of the IPC analysis. The analysis process typically includes a week-long analysis workshop, which can be followed by other supporting activities. 
  • Learn: Learning ensures constant self-improvement by informing action needed before the next analysis. TWG members are required to reflect on challenges encountered, such as inadequate evidence, unsuitable timing of analysis, as well as resource and capacity gaps faced, and are encouraged to develop a plan to address them. Furthermore, learning from country analysis is also fed back to the GSU for the development and review of technical guidance and training materials, as well as refinements in global coordination and country support.


When does IPC classify famine?

  • IPC only permits classification of Famine when all regular IPC protocols and special Famine protocols are met. The special protocols are:
  1. Requirement of reliable evidence on the three outcomes (Food Consumption or Livelihood Change, Global Acute Malnutrition and Crude Death Rate), all of which are either currently or projected to be above Famine Thresholds (>20% of households with extreme food gaps, >30% of children acutely malnourished, and CDR> 2/10,000/day).
  2. Undergoing a Famine Review Process to validate the classification.
  3. Development of IPC Famine Alert adhering to pre-determined standards.
  • IPC allows classification of Famine Likely, when all regular and special protocols are met, except for the existence of reliable evidence for the three outcomes. Areas can be classified as Famine Likely if minimally adequate evidence available indicates that a Famine may be happening or will happen. By allowing “Famine Likely”, IPC promotes prompt action by decision-makers to address the situation, while at the same time calling for urgent efforts to collect more evidence.
  • Famines should be avoided at all costs. Although further deaths can and should be prevented by urgent action, it is evident that these actions will be, de-facto, a late response as many will have died by that point. IPC supports Famine prevention by highlighting that:
  1. IPC Phase 4 Emergency is an extremely severe situation where urgent action is needed in order to save lives and livelihoods. 
  2. Households can be in Phase 5 Catastrophe even if areas are not classified as Phase 5 Famine, highlighting that households in Phase 5 Catastrophe experience the same severity of conditions even if the area is not yet in Famine. This can occur due to the time-lag between food insecurity, malnutrition and mortality or because of a localized situation. 
  3. Projection of Famines can be done even if the current situation is not yet a Famine, thus allowing early warning. 

What is the difference between IPC Phase 5 Famine and IPC Phase 5 Catastrophe?

The difference is determined by the percentage of people facing the conditions related to IPC phase 5.

A geographical area (e.g. county) is attributed and mapped in a specific IPC phase when at least 20 percent of the population in this area is experiencing the conditions related to that IPC phase or higher phases.

If households in a given area are experiencing catastrophic conditions of IPC phase 5 (i.e. extreme food gaps and significant mortality which is directly attributable to outright starvation or to the interaction of acute malnutrition and disease), these households are classified in IPC Phase 5 “Catastrophe”.

If at least 20 percent of the households in a given area are facing IPC Phase 5 “Catastrophe” conditions, this area (e.g. county) is also classified and mapped in IPC Phase 5 Famine and a Famine is declared in this area.

Therefore, at least 20% of the households should be experiencing IPC Phase 5 conditions to classify the whole area in IPC Phase 5 Famine and declare a Famine.

Do politics play any part in food security analysis?

IPC was created precisely to supersede potential political interferences through technical neutrality, and, if necessary, to shine a light on the political dimensions (at both national and international levels) that may obfuscate the severity of food insecurity situations.

IPC provides parameters which are based on international standards to analyse the severity of food insecurity from none to famine levels. These parameters have been commonly agreed by all partners and are followed in all countries using IPC protocols to ascertain the severity of the situation based on these parameters and data available.

This is particularly challenging in countries affected by conflict where some areas are not accessible and quality data are not always available. For this reason, an independent committee of global experts, called the IPC Famine Review Committee (FRC), can be activated to support the IPC country team of food security and nutrition specialists as an additional quality assurance and validation step for the IPC conclusions. The activation of the IPC FRC is also meant to further ensure technical independence of the analysis from potential political influence.

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