Saturday, April 06, 2013

Famine - it need not happen

Up to two million people are estimated to have died in drought-related emergencies since 1970.

“Where there are normally successive failed rains; then you have a process whereby you have subsequent harvest failures then people adopt coping strategies," explained report author Rob Bailey. "They start selling off assets, running down food reserves, taking on credit - they get themselves into an increasingly desperate situation." After a period of time the coping strategies become exhausted, triggering a famine. The whole process can take 11 months from start to finish, and that is why there is an opportunity to intervene early. "Yet despite this very significant opportunity and despite analysis showing that when you do intervene early it costs less and you save more lives, it does not happen. Ultimately, early action requires government action."

"It requires donor governments - like the UK and US - to write a cheque early on before the crisis is at its worse phase, and that is a big ask for governments to do because governments are primarily concerned with managing the political risks to themselves.
The 2011 famine in Somalia was probably the single most documented and monitored evolution of famine in history. But still no early action happened. Early warning systems were first introduced in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions in the early 1980s when it was first realised that it was possible to track the "chronology of famine". Things have got a lot more sophisticated so now there are early warning systems that use satellite to estimate harvests more effectively, how much pasture is available. We have more much more sophisticated weather forecasting models.They also use a lot more household-gathered data, where infants are weighed and malnutrition is quantified. Also, it is monitored whether certain coping strategies, that are recognised as pre-famine indicators, are becoming established. It is very rare that you can have a risk that can be so well understood and predicted, and give us such an opportunity to intervene and mitigate it.
Drought-related emergencies, particularly in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions, are unlikely to go away in the future, projected scenarios show.

Taken from here

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