In arid parts of the Middle East and North Africa, famine and climate-related food shortages remain critical development concerns. In sub-Saharan Africa, after devastating famines in the 1980s, USAID created the Famine Early Warning Systems Network – FEWS NET –to monitor and predict developments that affect food security. The system has been serving the region ever since. Among its accomplishments, FEWS NET is known for pioneering the application of satellite remote sensing and models to track and predict climate-sensitive aspects of food security.
There is a powerful interdependence between water availability and agriculture, health, nutrition, and political and economic development. In Yemen, for example, variable rainfall has decreased crop production, food prices are rising, and declining GDP growth and security diminish the population’s ability to obtain adequate nutrition. Today, more than 10 million Yemenis face food insecurity, as do 8 million citizens of Sudan and South Sudan. In Sudan, rainfall has declined by 20 percent since the mid-1970s, with acute impacts for pastoral communities reliant on rainfall for crop production.
Without a stable and sufficient food supply, little other development is possible. Climate change threatens to further destabilize the situation, and recent changes in weather patterns and rainfall have already exacerbated regional water resource management problems. Rain-fed agricultural productivity is particularly vulnerable to shifts in precipitation patterns. Resilience to climate change is critical to ensuring that broad-based development priorities can be met. As Jose Graziano Da Silva, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, puts it, “there is no food security without water security.”
FEWS NET staff collaborates with U.S. Government agencies, national government ministries and international partners to collect data and produce objective, forward-looking analyses on more than 30 of the world’s most food-insecure countries. FEWS NET helps guide adaptation efforts by providing high quality analyses of recently observed climate trends.
The importance of early warning is critical. With adequate lead time, governments, development agencies and citizens have the opportunity to plan for and mitigate the impact of climate developments. FEWS NET provides continuous monitoring of weather, climate, agricultural production, prices, trade and other factors, and thus can predict and plan for emerging problems. Pioneering in its analytical approach, FEWS NET forecasts the most likely climate patterns up to six months in advance. To help government decision-makers and relief agencies plan for food emergencies, FEWS NET publishes monthly reports on current and projected food insecurity, up-to-the-minute alerts on emerging or likely crises, and specialized reports on weather hazards, crops, market prices and food assistance at www.fews.net.
Programs like FEWS NET are putting to work leading American science and technology in support of effective regional water management and decision-making. “Much of the information that we rely on comes from FEWS NET,” says Abdoulaye Diop, director of the World Food Program in Malawi. “It is quite valuable…no one else on the ground can provide this type of information.”
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