Monday, December 26, 2011

Famine early warning system gives Africa a chance to prepare

Hamilton Wende in the Christian Science Monitor: As the world enters a new phase of politically charged climate talks, some scientists have focused on less-­contentious projects like a famine early warning system that can help poor nations adapt to the planet's changes.
...As age-old patterns of rainfall and seasons change, drought and famine are becoming more common. The most recent example is the ongoing food shortage in Somalia, which many observers have described as Africa's worst food-security crisis in two decades.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, and the situation remains serious. However, a project known as FEWS-NET, or the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, gave advance warning of the looming food crisis and ensured that thousands of other lives were saved.

"We monitor food security and vulnerable populations," says scientist Jim Rowland at the US Geological Survey (USGS), which is part of FEWS-NET. "We started to create alerts about the present situation in Somalia in August 2010 after the upheaval in weather conditions following La NiƱa [conditions]. We continued to send monthly updates until famine was declared in July 2011 based on much of our data."

Nowhere is the possible use of technology more important than in Africa, where scientists say climate change has taken its greatest human toll. Aid groups have used data from FEWS-NET to warn of another looming crisis, in West Africa, and encourage preventive action.

Challiss McDonough of the World Food Program confirms that FEWS-NET helped predict the Somali famine, adding that "the warning was instrumental in getting the attention of some donors before the crisis peaked."...

On the outskirts of Dadaab, where many refugees are sheltering as the main camps are overcrowded, a family gathers sticks and branches for firewood and making a shelter to protect them from the elements and wild animals. The carcasses of animals which have perished in the drought are strewn across the desert. Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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