Linking information to action
Enlisting information technology in the fight against hunger in Somalia
The Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSAU), implemented by FAO and funded by the European Commission and the U.S. Agency for International Development, recently launched a number of innovative information management products to assist policy-making in the field of food security and nutrition.
Information provided by the FSAU enables decision-makers within the humanitarian and development communities - including emerging Somali authorities -- to target vulnerable populations and to develop early, appropriate responses to food security crises, as well as policies and strategies to address longer-term food and livelihood security issues.
"Our emphasis is on making information easily available to a wide range of users and on linking information to action," says FSAU Chief Technical Advisor Nicholas Haan. "These new products are designed to address these goals."
FSAU created these products with sustainability and open-source software development in mind. "Open source and web-based applications, which are non-proprietary, facilitate continued software development and ease of access," explains FSAU Data Systems Manager Thomas Gabrielle
New Web site
The new FSAU Web site provides the latest information on Somali food security, nutrition and livelihoods, including the FSAU's food security and nutrition reports (in both English and Somali), climate data updates, market data updates, maps, data sets, livelihood baseline profiles, and other current and historical FSAU information resources. All items are available for viewing and downloading.
"The information we manage is used by the UN community, Somali authorities, non-governmental organizations, academicians -- in short, anyone interested in Somali food security, livelihoods and nutrition," says Haan. "We have specifically targeted Somalis abroad, but in monitoring who is using our site, we found that, interestingly, the largest number of Web site hits in the first few days after the launch came from Mogadishu -- clearly indicating the demand for information from key Somali clients."
The FSAU Digital Library (DILI) is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for current or historical food security and nutrition information, such as reports, academic articles, statistical and spatial data sets, maps, photos and audios. Items include FSAU products as well as information from UN partners, non-governmental organizations, the press, universities, research institutes and others.
"DILI is meant to be a hub of information on food security," says Haan. "We've developed software and a metadata protocol so that anyone can contribute to this database platform, making a wide variety of information very accessible."
At present, DILI can only be accessed from the FSAU Resource Centre, located in FSAU's Nairobi office, but an online version will be available soon via the FSAU Web site. Submissions to DILI (reports, articles, books, presentations, maps, photos, etc., related to Somali food security, nutrition and livelihoods) may be sent via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Health Information System
A collaborative effort between FSAU, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Health Information System is a database software that contains health statistics collected from health institutions in Somalia. The database provides users with a one-stop graphical analysis of malnutrition levels, disease and immunization statistics collected at health facilities around the country.
"The HIS not only makes nutrition data readily available for integrated food security analysis, it also provides a common platform across agencies for data storage and analysis," notes FSAU Nutrition Project Manager Noreen Prendiville. FSAU provides the central hub for all nutrition statistics, while UNICEF and WHO are responsible for immunization and morbidity data sets, respectively.
Field Information Capture System
The FSAU Field Information Capture System (FICS) incorporates custom-built FSAU software and the latest satellite phone technologies to collect and store field-based data in real time. Point data, such as the location of towns, settlements, boreholes, and the location of FSAU's 35 field staff (mapped daily), is retrieved from the global positioning system (GPS) feature of field staff's satellite phones and sent from the field to Nairobi using short messaging service (SMS) technology.
The data received from the field are stored in an integrated database and viewed on a Web-based map in real time as they are received by FSAU. The information collected and sent from the field is used for early warning, response to immediate livelihood emergencies, updating the FSAU spatial database, and for the security and management of field staff.
According to Haan, the system has proved so successful that the United Nations is considering replicating it to ensure the security of all UN staff in Somalia.
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