Past, present and future perspectives


Click to enlarge

Figure 3.3: Monitoring and response sequence

* Activities undertaken at present by FEWS FFRs in many instances
** Expanded activities for FEWS FFRs

Source: Hutchinson 1992

One of the key responses to reduce the vulnerability of people is early warning. Various early warning initiatives have been implemented in the region. The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) is perhaps one of the more widely known initiatives in Africa. The 1985 famine in Ethiopia galvanized African countries to establish FEWS, with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The main objective of FEWS is to lower the incidence of drought-induced famine by providing timely and accurate information to decision makers regarding potential famine conditions. The monitoring and response to famine has different phases, as shown in Figure 3.3.

Satellite data collected and processed by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are used to monitor vegetation conditions and rainfall across Africa. USAID has established a FEWS Network (FEWS NET), which is an information system designed to identify problems in the food supply system which can potentially lead to famine, flood or other food-insecure conditions in sub- Saharan Africa. FEWS NET is a multi-disciplinary project which collects, analyses and distributes regional, national and sub-national information to decisionmakers about potential or current famine or flood situations, allowing them to authorize timely measures to prevent food-insecure conditions in these nations. Countries with FEWS NET representatives are: Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia, (southern) Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe (USGS undated).

At a sub-regional level, in 1996-98, countries in Southern Africa established, with the support of FAO technical assistance: the Regional Early Warning System (REWS); the Regional Early Warning Unit (REWU); the Regional Remote Sensing Unit (RRSU); and the National Early Warning System (NEWS) (Chopak 2000).


One practical example of vulnerability assessment is the in-depth vulnerability analysis mapping in Mozambique which has been used to classify the country into different food production systems. The project has entailed a multidisciplinary group, involving, among others: the Ministry of Health (Department of Nutrition); the Ministry of Planning and Finance (Department of Social Development, Poverty Alleviation Unit); and the National Early Warning Unit within the Department of Agriculture. Some of the preliminary mapping products include: flood risk maps; NDVI identification of drought risk areas; food systems maps; land use maps; market access maps; and health and nutritional profiles. Collection, analysis and presentation of food security and nutrition has been institutionalized within government, becoming a tool for local development, service delivery and monitoring, as well as scientific inquiry.

One of the major challenges for the region will be to design interventions which identify and target the various interacting dimensions which characterize vulnerability. In broad terms, this implies developing vulnerability assessment methodologies based on multi-disciplinary, integrated and coordinated strategies.

Human vulnerability and security assessment is a valuable tool for integrating environmental concerns into evaluations of livelihood security and sustainable development in the region. In Africa, with major populations exposed to adverse environmental change in both rural and urban areas, vulnerability assessment, IEM and disaster early warning systems can be integrated into a powerful tool for planning towards sustainable policies, plans and development. There are already examples of vulnerability assessments taking place in Africa (see Box 3.18).

Box 3.18 Vulnerability assessments in Africa

The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme's core project on Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrological Cycle (IGBP-BAHC) adopted a vulnerability assessment approach to develop strategies for sustainable management of groundwater resources. This approach included:

  • regional integrated assessments of groundwater abstraction and recharge;
  • integration of human vulnerability dimensions (particularly relating to the limited adaptive capacities of poor communities to groundwater scarcity in arid and semi-arid environments);
  • stakeholder participation to identify social and environmental stresses;
  • strategies for integrated water resource management which lessened pressure on the resource, promoted welfare, enhanced adaptive capacity and reduced vulnerability; and
  • development of consolidated databases and continuous monitoring.
Source: Hoff 2001