Archived Fact Sheet
World Food Summit: five years later
Early Famine Warning
Makes details available at World Food Summit
June 12, 2002
The U.S. Agency for Development released June 11 the following fact sheet on its Famine Early Warning System Information Network:
FAMINE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM INFORMATION NETWORK (FEWS NET)
What is FEWS NET?
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) is a specialized Information Network (NET) based in developing countries contending with chronic food insecurity. FEWS NET is a partnership-based program initiated and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It is designed to build international, national and sub-national networks that help reduce food insecurity in countries where the political leadership is committed to assuming greater responsibility for the food security of their population.
The Role of FEWS NET In Preventing Famines
How FEWS NET Operates
The FEWS Information Network sifts through information provided by multiple technologies located both in the skies and on the ground. It then pieces together a picture of the threat to food security for key decision makers. For example, it draws on information derived from satellites for early identification of drought, cyclone, and floods. It collects information gathered by extension agents, and health and local government officials to determine if health, conflict or other factors are affecting people's access to food. Knowing what crops farmers are planting, tracking food prices at regional markets, and monitoring the extent of malnutrition and HIV/AIDS are all vital statistics fed into the FEWS NET system.
As independent actors who are neither government officials nor assistance providers, FEWS professionals on the ground serve as honest brokers and trusted advisors. They work closely with agricultural ministries and other counterparts within and outside of government. This reputation often allows FEWS to facilitate a joint public-private response at the policy and operational level. By organizing regular dialogue among disaster, water, climate, and health officials, the most vulnerable groups can be identified and helped in a systematic fashion.
Why was FEWS NET started?
The famines in Ethiopia and the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s were caused by extreme drought. Because information systems did not exist to provide warnings of the early states of these droughts, the food aid emergency response by the international community was too little and too late to avoid famine. Famine early warning systems were born in Ethiopia and the Sahel to monitor droughts and identify the people most likely affected.
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) was developed by USAID in the late 1980s to assist those efforts, as well as to help U.S. food aid and disaster officials identify any future need for early drought responses in high-risk areas. USAID believed that early detection of drought was feasible given existing satellite-based technology available within the United States Government, using National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites.
How Have Famine Early Warning Systems Performed?
Serious droughts have threatened food security throughout sub-Saharan Africa in the years since early warning systems have been in existence. Serious droughts have not become famines in the Sahel, Southern Africa or Ethiopia, primarily due to a combination of early warning and early public action. USAID believes that wherever governments are focused on assisting people, are vigilant and govern responsibly, neither drought nor flood should lead to the famines experienced in the past.
The lack of democracy and a free press and the presence of conflict and disease pose serious food security threats in areas periodically affected by drought and other natural disasters. Since famine early warning systems work best where government commitment and access to at-risk areas exist, the greatest food security threats occur in countries where this lack of commitment and access persists. Thus, while satellites, for instance, can provide an early warning in cases of slow-onset disaster such as drought, data alone cannot overcome man-made problems, such as when conflict cuts off humanitarian assistance providers' access to populations at risk.
Important Guiding Principles in the FEWS NET'S Approach
Public Sector Decision Makers in Food Insecure Countries:
If you would like assistance from FEWS NET to identify ways that an information network might best meet your decision-making needs and/or identify possible ways that USAID could assist you, please contact your local USAID Mission Director.
The Private Sector in Food Insecure Countries:
Contact details for the roster of FEWS NET field representatives can be found online at www.fews.net.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)