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Topic: Measurement / Assessment

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Food Security in Southern Africa-Assessing the use of ENSO information

By Glantz, Betsill and Crandall, Environmental and Societal Impacts Group (ESIG). Information about El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events potentially has much to offer in alleviating the impact of drought and improving food security in drought-prone countries. Advanced warning of ENSO and "teleconnected" drought could allow for flexible agricultural production practices, strategic management of grain and water reserves, minimal budgetary impacts, and effective management of donor relief. This study reviews the actual as well as potential use of ENSO information during the 1991-92 drought in Southern Africa. Using the case-scenario method, this study assesses the use of ENSO information during the drought situation and then considers how the national, regional and international responses to the drought might have been different had ENSO information been widely available to decision makers in March 1991. A set of possible responses is identified based on information obtained from open-ended questionnaires and interviews that, in theory, could have been taken with earlier information. Political, social, and economic constraints to the actual use of this information are also identified, which enables us to distinguish between the theoretical and actual value of ENSO information in this particular drought situation. In the final chapter, we note that many lessons were learned from the 1991/92 drought in Southern Africa which have enhanced the potential utility of ENSO information for food security in the region. Nevertheless, potential users still face obstacles in their ability to use ENSO information in decision making. These include questions about the reliability of forecasts, delays in the timing of forecasts, a lack of understanding of what the forecasts mean, as well as concerns about the utility of regional-scale forecasts for local level decision making.