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Role of Early Warning Systems (EWS) in food security

UREPORT
By By Wanjiku Gichaga | June 3rd 2013

By Wanjiku Gichaga

NAIROBI, KENYA: Getting the conversation going on how to better protect ourselves as a society and as individuals from a well predicted food crisis must not be underestimated.

A recent report in a local daily newspaper warned that food security experts, in the latest Famine Early Warning System Network analysis, had established reliably that the number of people facing food insecurity in Africa is likely to rise from March to June mainly due to increasing food insecurity in the horn of Africa.

The affected countries would include; Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan, and parts of Northeastern Kenya.

The article, published on March 18, still has no comments by the readers and only managed 8 reactions or hushed twitter shares without further comment.

I would therefore safely guess that the article did not get the attention of many or still did not elicit a national conversation on what to do as we ‘Brace ourselves for hunger pangs’.

I must admit that the writer did a great job of choosing a catchy headline and did an excellent job outlining the technical evidence justifiably presented by  Famine Early Warning System Network .

However in the end, we the people, probably shied away from making our two cents ideas on what was to be done with so much already said. One is left wondering if the report would precede the inevitable occurrence of the food shortages as always.

The big secret is Famine Early Warning System Network and her peer organizations’ (like UN - FAO), main goal is not just famine prediction, but famine or food insecurity mitigation.

In ordinary person’s terms, this simply means that they will have failed if all they do is play prophet-of-doom and watch as the people fall into the very pit they said was ahead.

 In fact, early warning information systems are only useful if they are accurate and timely in their prediction to about three to six months in advance, so as to be functional for potentially completely avoiding a famine crisis.

May be the news story should have ended with an invitation for a suggestion on what action is best to help stop the crisis before it occurs.

As a journalist, the story is complete in conveying the information of an impending crisis and even taken time to highlight some progress such as the reduction from 14.9 million to 12.9 million people facing acute food insecurity, from about three months, indicative of substantial improvements in food security at the end of 2012.

But there is a moral obligation to go a step further and to solicit for early action as part of the reporting. This is debatable; this is exactly my point here.

You see, Famine Early Warning System Network was established in 1984 as a response to the devastating famine in the Horn of Africa. It has distinguished itself as a reliable interpreter of Climatic, livelihood and food prices patterns in the region.

According to research comparing five regional early warning systems in East Africa and their abilities to predict the just ended food crisis in Somalia and surrounding that was declared on July 20, 2011 and ended in February 2012, Mija-Tesse Ververs ranked Famine Early Warning System Network as the credible EWS body in the region.

Ververs found that only Famine Early Warning System Network Special reports together with the food Security alerts and FSNWG’s (Food Security and Nutrition Working Group) Alerts demonstrated high accuracy in predicting major food insecurity in the region in a timely manner (at least 6 months ahead) therefore they were functional for potentially completely avoiding the famine crises that ironically did eventually ensue in July, 2011.

Can we really prevent famines?

The question is, can we actually prevent famine in Africa. Isn’t it supposed to happen every once in a while? The answer is, yes we can – although is it not as easy as simply distributing food. Climatic changes that form drought and massive rainfall shortages do not have to lead to a famine.

 I will have several rebuttals on that from different views of people who think otherwise, therefore the need to establish what we mean by a food insecurity and worst case, famine.

Thanks to Mosley and Logan, we have a four-fold check list to food security for instance the economic and physical access to food, food self-sufficiency, security of access, and sustained access over a long period.

Famine early warning systems are in place to systematically harvest data supporting the existence of all four areas in food security and to trigger appropriate early action should there be an incoming deficit.

Their aim is to reach stakeholders like government leaders, relief organizations leaders and other opinion leaders with the information on time and to support their efforts to lessen the effects of a possible incoming threat.


 

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