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Annex VI



This paper outlines the role of an effective early warning system in mitigating the food insecurity impact of natural and man-made disasters. It is observed that the nature of food and agricultural emergencies has been changing over the past twenty years. We now face threats to food security not only from natural hazards but increasingly so from man-made disasters or the combination of the two. Selected case studies are used to elaborate the nature of the crisis, the type and the timeliness of early warning information issued and the information-response linkages forged to alleviate human suffering and loss of life. The paper also underlines the basic elements for effective functioning of an early warning system. These relate to collaboration, use of state-of-the-art technology, development of objective methodologies for assessments and effective early warning-response linkages. In the end, of course, the worth of any early warning system is determined by its usefulness to the end users and its role in timely mobilisation of relief assistance for the affected populations. In this respect GIEWS' experience around the globe could provide a useful guide for national early warning systems.


1. In spite of FAO's deep commitment and the international community's significant efforts to eradicate world hunger, a disturbing gap still exists and today millions of people throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet even basic nutritional needs. Although global food supplies have increased substantially, peoples' access remains heavily constrained by deep-rooted problems associated with poverty, including slow economic growth and lagging productivity and population pressure. In these circumstances, the delicate balance between having enough food to meet even minimum needs and facing severe food shortages can easily be upset by natural and man-made disasters and economic shocks.

2. There is little doubt that the need for an effective early warning system at both national and global levels is more pertinent today than ever before. As population pressure and competition for scarce resources, (including international food and humanitarian aid) grow, the disastrous impact of natural and man made catastrophes is becoming all the more apparent. The last few years have also shown that the periodicity of disasters, probably also linked to events such as El Niño and global warming, appears to be increasing in frequency and magnitude. Indeed, there are indications that agriculture is becoming more vulnerable to environmental hazards, including frequent floods, droughts, cyclones, and storms, that can damage life and property and severely reduce agricultural production and people's food security. Changes in average climate conditions and increased climate variability can have not only short term impacts, but also significant long-term effects on agriculture and food production in many parts of the world. Particularly vulnerable are low-income populations that depend on isolated agricultural systems and who have very limited coping capabilities, especially in countries that are poorly integrated into world markets.

3. The objective of this paper, therefore, is to outline the role of an effective Early Warning System in the emergency preparedness and in mobilising assistance for mitigation of the food insecurity impact of such calamities.


4. World-wide in 2000 there was an increase in the number of food emergencies with the number of countries facing serious food shortages even higher than in the disastrous drought year of 1984. In Asia, the incidence of food and humanitarian emergencies increased phenomenally last year, due to a succession of natural disasters including the earth-quake in India and tremendous devastation in a number of countries following widespread floods. The region was also affected by continuing drought, which saw a decline in food production in key producing areas, including China, India and Pakistan. Luckily, these countries have been successful in the last two decades in raising food production and hence could effectively deal with the shortfall in food supplies. Moreover, in many countries of the region progress has been made in reducing the proportion of undernourished people, though their numbers still remain very large.

5. Food supply problems have been exacerbated this year by the worst winter weather in decades in a number of countries in the region. In addition, a growing phenomena in the profile of food shortages in the region, in the last decade or so, has been economic disruption, particularly in the transitional economies, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as those low-income food-deficit countries hit by the financial crisis in 1997/1998.

6. The Emergency Operations (EMOPs) for food aid jointly approved by the FAO Director-General and WFP Executive Director and executed by WFP account for only a subset of the total disasters in the world, but none-the-less provide important proxy information for the extent and the nature of emergencies. The EMOPs data shows that globally, over last 7 years, about one-half of the people covered under such emergency operations were from Asia followed by 40 per cent from Africa, 10 per cent from Europe and only 1 per cent from Latin America (see Figure 1). On the budget side, Asian emergency food aid operations amounted to about 35 per cent (see Figure 2). Africa, of course, due to the prolonged structural stagnation of agricultural sectors and general economies in many countries and the highly precarious food situation, had almost half of these emergency operations.

Figure 1.
Distribution of Total Beneficiaries of Jointly Approved EMOPs by Region, 1994-2000

Figure 2.
Distribution of Total Budget of Jointly Approved EMOPs by Region, 1994-2000

7. Since the 1980s, there has also been a significant shift in the major causes of food emergencies. Whereas natural disasters were the major reason formerly, during the 1990s man-made disasters, including war/civil disturbances, financial and economic crises, gained considerably in importance and by last year were the underlying cause of nearly 50 per cent of global food emergencies (see Figure 3). The number of people affected by food emergencies has also tended to rise. As of early 2001, for example, it is estimated that some 62 million people are affected by food emergencies of varying intensity compared to 52 million a year earlier.

8. Using the EMOPs data again as a yardstick, it can be seen that only 18 per cent of emergencies food assistance operations (in value terms) in Asia were classified as of man-made causes such as war, civil strife and economic crisis (see Figure 4). It should be noted that not all economic crises in Asia led to food insecurity requiring outside food assistance. By contrast, similar figures for the man-made disaster category world wide were 48 per cent and in Africa were 57 per cent. In Asia, the majority (53 per cent) of the emergencies requiring food aid were due to crop failures (mostly due to droughts) and additional 29 per cent were due to sudden natural disasters (mostly floods) during the 1994-2000 period. The proportion of sudden natural disasters in Asia is more-or-less comparable to such disasters in Africa as well as world wide.

Figure 3.
Trends in Causes of Global Food Emergencies, 1981-2000


Figure 4.
Major Reasons for EMOPs Involving Multilateral Food Aid, 1994-2000

9. GIEWS was established in 1975 in the wake of the world food crisis of the early seventies on the recommendation of the World Food Conference (1974). These recommendations were endorsed at the Twenty-Ninth Session of the UN General Assembly. The ultimate aim of GIEWS is to avert hunger and suffering by providing accurate, timely and apposite information on food supply and demand to policy makers and policy analysts. Strict early warning, in this context, is the prediction of food crises before they happen. The System monitors the global food supply and demand in order to provide timely warnings of impending food supply problems facing individual countries.

10. The System continually receives economic, political and agricultural information from a wide variety of official and unofficial sources. Institutional links and information-sharing agreements have been established with several UN Organisations, 116 governments, 4 regional organisations and over 60 NGOs. The System maintains regular contact with FAO's regional, subregional and country offices, and most of FAO's technical units for information sharing and for the development of methodologies. In recent years, the decentralisation of FAO has strengthened reporting systems from the field. FAO offices world wide provide information to and from governmental and intergovernmental authorities, compile regular situation reports and once-off communications. FAO field offices also assist in the dissemination of GIEWS publications.

11. The System's crop monitoring activities are supported by FAO's Environment and Natural Resources Service which provides near real-time satellite images through FAO's Africa Real Time Environmental Monitoring Information System (ARTEMIS), and also agrometeorological assessments conducted by the Agrometeorology Group. The Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO) and the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) provide GIEWS with information on migratory pest movements and control operations on a regular basis. The System draws on analyses provided by commodity specialists, within the Commodities and Trade Division, for information on a variety of food commodities. Regular contact is also maintained with Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service. The Service is responsible for planning and backstopping FAO-supported Regional and National Early Systems.

12. The System has a true global coverage, though particular emphasis is placed on countries and regions where food emergencies are most likely to occur. In countries without an early warning system, GIEWS relies on a direct flow of information from the appropriate technical services within the government, on FAO field staff and on NGOs. Efforts are continually being made to cultivate and consolidate these links, but gaps sometimes occur in the System's information coverage, and it is necessary to dispatch specialised information-gathering missions.

13. GIEWS' activities concentrate on: (a) Monitoring of complex set of factors responsible for causing food insecurity in the world at global, regional, national and sub-national levels. This is typically achieved through rapid assessment missions and co-ordination with other information gathering agencies in the field, at national as well as international levels. (b) Analysis of the extensive information on the current world food supply/demand problems as well as the database accumulated in the past quarter century is one of the System's exceptional assets. It is always important to put the current situation in perspective, especially when evaluating the magnitude of an emergency. This data set is all the more important given that in some countries consistent data have not been collected in the past and/or have been lost or are unreliable. (c) Dissemination of processed vital information to the policy makers. This is achieved primarily through GIEWS' core publications "Food Outlook", "Foodcrops and Shortages", and "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa". Numerous Special Reports and Special Alerts are also produced. These publications are freely available to all on its Internet site at the address

3.1 Main Elements of an Effective Early Warning System

14. Based on its long experience, GIEWS has found the following main elements as necessary for an effective early warning system:

  1. Collaboration: An effective early warning system has to form backward linkages on the input side with various national and international agencies/units working on the early warning related information so as not to duplicate the effort, and forward linkages on the output side with the major donors (or assistance units in the national context), policy makers and media, in order to deliver information efficiently and generate quick response. Cooperation and feed-back mechanism with the end users is also essential in this collaborative process to help improve the quality of information sought for early warning purposes.
  2. State-of-the-art Technology: Taking advantage of the advances in the information technology, an early warning system has to rely on most modern technology to the extent possible for monitoring, analysis and dissemination of the relevant information. An example of such technology, developed and adopted by GIEWS, is a computer workstation for data management and early warning analysis, ranging from crop monitoring using up-to-date satellite images to estimating food import requirements. There is usually trade-off between the thoroughness of the information and the time required to collect, process and make that information available to users for effective response. Hence, use of modern technology can help us buy more time for action in alleviating the food insecurity effects of disasters.
  3. Objective Methodology for Monitoring: In order to enhance the objectivity and the credibility of food supply assessments an early warning system requires well developed and field tested methodology that is clear in purpose and fairly straightforward in its application field. This may include a set of guidelines for conducting crop and food supply assessments, along with proven operational procedures as well as ready made packages of background information for effective monitoring under various circumstances and scenarios.
  4. Early Warning-Response Linkage: Early warning system without the follow-up response would be a purely academic exercise with little practical value. Therefore, it is vital that the early assessment and warning is linked to the response mechanism so that the end goal of helping people being affected by the crisis is achieved.

3.2 Early Warning Technology/Methodology and Impact Assessment

15. In the last 25 years, the "science" of early warning has necessarily evolved in terms of the methodologies and technologies used. This advance has been in response to:

3.2.1 Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

16. Modern early warning systems make effective use of up-to-date satellite-based data to monitor the current growing season on a regular basis and to identify trends in these data which denote possible precursors to problems such as drought. These data are visualised and analysed by GIEWS and other early warning systems using computer-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Although the use of satellite information can make a significant contribution to early warning in many situations, to fully utilise its potential, it not only has to be an integral part of an integrated analysis system, but also be easily accessible at reasonably low cost through user friendly PC-based platforms.

3.2.2 The GIEWS Workstation

17. With the need to manage and analyse information from many different sources ranging from in-country reports to global satellite images, GIEWS, with funding and support from the EC, has developed an integrated information system known as the "GIEWS Workstation". The Workstation is composed of custom software designed for early warning which have increased the speed and efficiency of analysis and information dissemination. It provides an excellent example of an integrated information system combining: a) WinDisp, a public domain GIS developed by GIEWS for analysing near real-time satellite images for crop monitoring, b) country cereal balance sheets, and c) an electronic news service. The system is also linked to a unique reference database with relevant information on food security at global, regional, national and sub-national levels, allowing analysts to consult various crop calendars, crop statistics, administrative maps, and demographic information.

18. Using WinDisp's satellite image analysis and map overlay functions, analysts can assess rainfall and vegetation information in areas important for staple food crops and pastoral lands. In arid and semi-arid parts of the world, satellite technology has been extremely useful in monitoring vegetation condition throughout the growing season, and allowing for comparison with images from former years and the norm. The use of satellite images as an input to early warning analysis was first introduced for monitoring arid and semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa updated on a 10-day basis. These consisted of low-resolution (8-km) vegetation index (NDVI) images to assess vegetation conditions, and cold cloud duration (CCD) images as a proxy estimate for rainfall. Since 1998, GIEWS has access to global coverage, 10-day, 1-kilometre resolution NDVI images from the VEGETATION instrument on-board the SPOT-4 satellite. The SPOT-4 based NDVI were invaluable in ascertaining the extent of the drought in 1999 and 2000 in several Asian countries.

19. GIEWS is currently developing an interactive website known as GeoWeb which would allow users to access GIEWS databases and tools over the Internet in English, French and Spanish. GeoWeb allows users to develop their own maps on demand by combining the latest satellite images and digital maps, gain access to early warning information organised by country, and to query other Internet sites for relevant information. Several options exist which enable users to view, chart and map data.

3.2.3 Rapid Assessment Missions

20. In addition to regular monitoring and reporting activities using GIS and other information tools, an activity that is becoming increasingly important in early warning is rapid crop and food supply assessment missions (CFSAMs). These are normally fielded in respect to particular emergency activities and are a key element in information gathering pertinent to specific situations. The main objective of the missions is to assess the food supply situation over a marketing year at the national level, the level of food deficit and the amount of food aid required to meet emergency needs. Increasingly, experience of joint FAO/WFP missions has shown that to better target food intervention an assessment at sub-national level is important to identify which population groups will be the most susceptible to food shortages. The role of the CFSAMs should be understood in the context of ongoing local, national early warning and food information systems and the continuous monitoring of FAO/GIEWS. They are complementary to ongoing long-term information strengthening activities and should not be viewed as a substitute for these activities. In recent years, the GIEWS has actively encouraged the employment of experts under TCDC schemes for its missions. On average the System undertakes some 30 CFSAMs a year although the number has increased in recent years and most are to sub-Saharan Africa. In the Asia Region, (including central Asia), over the past two years such missions have been fielded to Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, East Timor, Laos, DPR Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

3.3 Challenges Facing Early Warning Systems

21. A combination of several factors such as: a) the changing nature of disasters and causes of food insecurity problems, b) an appreciation of growing resource constraints and c) the revolution in information technology, mean that early warning systems will have to be both adaptive and innovative in meeting the challenges of providing timely warning in preparedness and disaster mitigation. Systems will need to evolve in order to deal with growing hardships caused by natural disasters, man-made disasters and in some cases by the combination of the two. Methodologies are evolving to deal with food insecurities caused by transition from state-controlled/centrally planned economies to more market oriented ones, due to economic crises and reforms, international sanctions, etc. This recognises that the problem of food security is not only related to production but also to access to food, market integration and purchasing power.

22. In the future, it is hoped that the methodological tools and database can be enhanced by a greater emphasis on non-cereal foods (the current emphasis is towards cereals) in order to capture changes in the capacity to access food supplies. National level monitoring has tended to focus on the biological and meteorological determinants of food supply. Now, with most of the world's food markets operated by private sector, the importance of the economic and policy framework influencing production, trade and stock, has come to the fore. The early warning systems need to move towards a better understanding of the impact of domestic policies (sectoral and macroeconomic) on prices, supply and demand. There is also a need to strengthen an early warning system's capacity to analyse the implications of world price movements for food demand in the LIFDCs.

23. Another aspect that is becoming increasingly clear is the need for better targeting mechanism of identification of vulnerable people. From the late eighties onwards, there has been a decline in world food aid resources, reflecting underlying changes in price and stock policies in the donor countries. Food aid has become a scarce resource and donors are ever keen to see that it is used only when it is most needed and delivered to the most needy. To this end, GIEWS has collaborated with Save the Children (UK), WFP's Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping Unit (VAM), the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS) developed out of the World Food Summit of 1996, and numerous national and international organisations, in an effort to reach a common understanding on the appropriate tools for localised food security monitoring. The process of developing and harmonising such tools is in its infancy and remains a priority and challenge for the coming years.

24. In achieving this it is clear that no one system can operate in isolation but needs to be part of an intricate and reciprocal system, of information sharing, at both national and global level. This linkage is also essential in underpinning the process of warning with response. As these types of linkages have traditionally been weak, more concerted efforts by Governments, Donors and International Organisations will be essential to strengthen the linkages between early warning and relief response to deal with emergencies.


25. To illustrate the dynamic role that an early warning system can play, the following three case studies are presented. These relevant Asian cases are selected to demonstrate the diverse nature of emergencies covered and the national and international assistance mobilised to mitigate the effects of disasters and safeguard the food security of the affected populations.

4.1 The Case of Natural Disasters due to Floods in Bangladesh

26. During July 1998, as a result of exceptionally heavy rains in the basin areas of the rivers Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna, water levels rose rapidly in the downstream flood plain of Bangladesh. During the following two months three major floods occurred and about 50 per cent of the country was under water for periods of up to 67 days, at depths of up to three metres. The Aus rice crop harvest was interrupted, the planting of Aman crops was delayed and, in some areas, was never completed. Devastation was caused, not only to cropped areas, but also to rural people, their homes and their livestock. GIEWS issued a special alert in August 1998 on the impact of the floods on the food and agriculture sector in Bangladesh and other Asian countries. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food supply Assessment Mission was rapidly dispatched to assess the food supply situation and forecast food production, import requirements and food aid needs for 1998/99. The flood-related crop losses were estimated at 2.2 million tonnes of rice. The mission described the food supply situation resulting from losses as extremely serious in the flood-affected areas.

27. The floods affected the livelihoods of 25 to 30 million people either directly (losses of crops and livestock, destruction of houses, loss of property, etc.) or indirectly (reduced employment opportunities for day labourers, increased food prices, income reducing effects of high interest payments for loans, etc.). For landowners and sharecroppers (especially for those who had paid cash advances for land-rent) the direct effects were the most severe. The indirect effects were even felt in less affected surrounding areas causing wide spread food insecurity in the country.

28.A full-scale rescue and relief operation was launched by the government by mobilising the army for the rescue operations and distribution of food to the flood victims. However, the magnitude of the disaster was well beyond the capacity of the government to cope. Hence the early warning information on objective impact assessment and intense publicity contributed to the mobilisation of resources on a large scale. WFP's emergency food-aid operation followed with a total budget of about US$ 114 million including some 460,000 tonnes of food intended to benefit 19 million people during 1998 and 1999. Agricultural rehabilitation assistance was also provided to the country.

4.2 The Case of Food Insecurity due to Economic Crisis in Indonesia

29. Along with other countries of Asia, Indonesia was affected by economic crisis in mid-1997. This crisis greatly increased the vulnerability of large sections of the population to food insecurity. Consequently, from a position of favourable economic growth in 1996 when the GDP grew at 8 per cent, the economy contracted by 15 per cent in 1998.

30. The recession, especially in the service, manufacturing and construction sectors, and lower domestic demand, resulted in a dramatic increase in unemployment. The number of unemployed rose to an estimated 20 million or 22 per cent of the workforce by the end of 1998. The ensuing problems were most acute amongst urban workers, where the loss in employment resulted in a dramatic decrease in purchasing power. Many unemployed urban workers moved to rural areas, thus exerting further pressure on the limited services in these areas.

31. To make matters worse, Indonesia in 1997/98 experienced the worst El Niño-induced drought in 50 years resulting in further reduction in rice production. Consequently rapid inflation, particularly of rice and other food prices during 1997 and 1998 (see Figure 5), followed and quickly eroded the real value of incomes of those lucky enough to be in work. A UNDP/ILO study estimated that the combination of stagnant wages and incomes and high inflation resulted in around 100 million people (48 per cent of the population) falling below the poverty line by the end of 1998.

Figure 5.
Indonesia - Rice and Food Price Index(March 1997 = 100)

32. The high and growing number of poor people in Indonesia and the prospects of the country entering next year with a substantial proportion of the population below the poverty line meant that urgent action and interventions were needed both to reduce poverty and to restructure and stimulate the economy, especially agriculture and food production. As part of this process, in June 1998 a Memorandum on Economic and Financial Policies was agreed to by the Government and IMF. This included measures to shore up purchasing power, control inflation, restore the banking system and strengthen institutions involved in managing the crisis. These reforms were seen as essential in stimulating agriculture and manufacturing and generating employment.

33. In addition to escalation of food prices, a high price variation among the various regions was observed. This was principally attributed to political uncertainty, market failures as traders were reluctant to buy, stock and transport rice and the declining role of BULOG, the National Logistics Planning Agency. Food imports rose dramatically from under 2 million tonnes in 1995-97 average to over 6 million tonnes in 1998/99.

34. To cushion the negative impact of food shortages, the Government introduced a special programme, to provide 10 kg of rice/family at a subsidised rate of RP 1,000/kg, for up to 17 million of the poorest families (or 85 million people). FAO/GIEWS took the following concrete steps to mitigate the impact:

All of these efforts contributed in considerable amount to the mobilization of emergency food aid at the bilateral (principally by Japan) and multilateral levels.

4.3 The Case of Economic Decline and Natural Disasters in Democratic People's Republic of Korea

35. This case study is an example of the role played by GIEWS in enhancing the food security of DPR Korea, affected by economic decline and natural disasters. Since 1995, DPR has faced a serious food crisis due to the combined effect of natural hazards and economic decline. The disintegration of the USSR, and much of its traditional barter trade, and the rapid pace of economic liberalisation in China and much of the eastern bloc have effectively led to the cessation of privileged economic ties with these countries, on which the DPK's economy depended heavily in the past.

36. These economic problems have manifested themselves in falling productivity and output in the agriculture sector, as domestic production of fertilisers and imports of essential chemical and other inputs, like fuel and spare parts, have fallen appreciably in recent years. In addition to these, food production is constrained by geography, land availability and climate, which have resulted in a system of agriculture which is characterised by short fallow periods and very limited crop rotations. Inevitably such a system has led to declining soil fertility and a precarious situation where more fertilisers and chemicals are needed to maintain output, but less are available because the country cannot afford imports. As a result, yields have declined. The fine balance in agriculture, therefore, is easily upset by natural calamities which have affected agricultural production in most years since 1995. A serious food emergency developed in 1995, when widespread floods destroyed large crop areas and vital agricultural structures. Again in July 1996 a re-occurrence of extensive flooding reduced domestic food production further and exacerbated the ongoing emergency situation. Recurring drought and harsh winters in subsequent years also took their toll.

37. Prevailing input and land constraints mean that the country simply cannot produce enough food grains to meet demand and hence has a growing dependence on imports. The capacity to import food commercially, however, is highly constrained by the weak economy, the consequent lack of foreign exchange and large international debt. These factors together have meant that DPR Korea had to resort to measures such as the use of barter trade to counter food supply problems. The terms of trade against such transactions, however, mean that it is costly in resource terms, whilst its unpredictability and lack of sustainability mean that it does little to offer a long-term solution.

38. During these difficult years, the Government and the people of DPR Korea have also made tremendous efforts to cope with the hardships stemming from food shortages. From a national perspective these efforts include, prioritising agriculture and food production in national planning, mass mobilisation of people to address agricultural needs, greater emphasis for planting individual household plots, increased autonomy to provinces to import food, through barter, from China, foreign remittances from ethnic Koreans abroad and campaigns to promote consumption of non-traditional foods, such as potatoes. The double cropping programme, undertaken with FAO's assistance, has also enabled an additional crop of wheat and barley to be produced, in the months immediately preceding the main planting season of rice and maize. This, together with larger production of potatoes, has helped reduce somewhat the burden of food shortages during the critical lean period from June to September.

39. Throughout the emergency, FAO/GIEWS jointly with WFP has played an important role not only in alerting the international community of the extent of the problem but also in promoting response. Since 1995, 11 joint FAO/WFP missions were fielded to DPR Korea and the findings of these missions were instrumental in mobilising substantial food assistance to the country. At the multilateral level, DPR Korea received over the last six years total assistance worth about US$ 1.22 billion which makes it the single largest beneficiary of the emergency operations executed by WFP. In addition, agricultural rehabilitation assistance was also mobilised, but it remains seriously short of the requirement.


40. National governments have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all citizens are food secure. Currently, however, although many countries have shown interest, not all in the Asia region have functioning early warning systems. Indeed even among countries that had established systems earlier some have lapsed. Logically, therefore, the need for having recognised units within the institutional structure in a given country would be the first step in strengthening the effectiveness of early warning in Asia.

5.1 National Early Warning Systems (NEWS)

41. With changes in the profile of disasters and the possible increase in the frequency of their occurrence, Governments in Asia are aware of the need for achieving food security to ensure access to adequate food to all. Monitoring of the variables that determine the balance between availability of food and ensuring sufficient supplies, especially to those that are vulnerable and most in need in a post emergency situation basically constitutes the essence of early warning. The fundamental rationale is that pro-active interventions, including warnings, are far better than poorly executed and costly actions post event. An effective early warning system will lead to considerable time and cost savings in managing disasters. It will allow sufficient lead time for relief interventions and disaster mitigation. The cost savings will be especially important to countries facing foreign exchange constraints and having under developed infrastructure. In addition NEWS can allow proper pre-positioning of food stocks to cope with future emergencies more effectively. NEWS will continuously feed information on supply and demand parameters and continual updates to the policy makers to help make appropriate decisions on measures affecting imports and exports. But the over-riding benefit of an efficient early warning system would be the reduction in human hardships and possible loss of life.

42. A Regional Technical Cooperation Network for national early warning would provide much needed mechanism for efficient and continuous exchange of information and experiences as well as joint activities in the field of early warning and food information. This may also help to formulate a regional strategy to deal with more regional disasters and ensuing food emergencies.

5.2 Linkages between GIEWS and NEWS

43. Once Governments have agreed on the need to establish or strengthen NEWS, the next step would be to establish strong reciprocal linkages with GIEWS to enable technical development of systems and information flows. With GIEWS assistance in the provision of technology, computer software and technical support information systems could be developed in countries, which would form the basis of information exchange. With effective NEWS or regional early warning systems (REWS), would there then be a need for a global system? GIEWS asserts that while national and regional systems are essential and strengthening them is a priority, a global system is necessary for the following reasons:


44. An early warning system can never be judged in isolation from the decisions that it supports. Although effective early warning is a prerequisite for timely/effective response, the two are not fundamentally linked. Early warning and response facilities are often housed in different offices or agencies. This is advantageous, as early warning thereby maintains its independence and claims to objectivity. The downside is that early warning systems have little direct control over the outcome. Having an effective early warning system is no guarantee that interventions will follow. As the international media frequently show, famine, starvation and malnutrition continue to haunt many parts of the world. Sadly food resources are not always mobilised in sufficient volume, or they arrive too late to prevent human misery or in some cases to save lives. War or civil strife often hamper logistic operations so much that relief programmes fail to reach the most needy. However, without objective information and early warning there is no chance that timely and appropriate action will be taken to avoid suffering.

45. While there is no way to guarantee that responses will be adequate and appropriate, GIEWS strives to ensure that the early warning response link is continuously maintained and strengthened. Since its inception, it has monitored and reported on responses to food crises, highlighting areas where responses fall short of requirements and pressuring the concerned authorities to act. In general, the effective link to the response system is forged in the following three dimensions:

6.1 Early Warning and Emergency Preparedness

46. As far as the emergency preparedness is concerned, only a few countries in the world strive to prepare themselves to deal with food emergencies. Some of the measures considered include maintaining buffer stocks, emergency food reserve funds and other alternatives which require careful evaluation in light of each country's capacity and preferences in dealing with national food security issue. What needs to be emphasised here is that the value of information and early warnings is even more critical in such cases due to substantially long time required for deliveries to the emergency victims.

47. The priority for early warning systems (both national and global) is of course to ensure that in a given situation, especially in a post emergency scenario, that those who need food assistance most, receive it. In this regard, more and more it is the national capacity of Governments and its institutions that will determine as to what extent food shortages are countered since resources for food assistance are largely from domestic sources and far exceed those through international food aid. The strategy for emergency preparedness to deal with food insecurity in the long term, of course, lies in countries developing their abilities in correcting the underlying causes of disasters on one hand (for example man-made factors such as war, civil strife, etc. and natural factors such as floods, deforestation, etc.) and building their own technical capacity to increase agricultural productivity on the others.

48. It is clear, however, that in order to avoid waste, food assistance programmes will have to become more efficient and effective in order to do more with less resources. The driving principles of efficient food aid interventions need to provide timely, appropriate and adequate relief interventions, to targeted populations keeping in mind that the main casualties of emergencies are normally women and children. Constant monitoring and identification of the most vulnerable peoples is carried out by VAM Units of WFP, FIVIMS developed out of the World Food Summit of 1996, and numerous national and international organisations.


49. Emergencies causing severe food insecurity in developing countries are complex involving multitude of factors and typically require fairly long time to formulate human response. Since the time is of the essence an effective early warning system is essential to understand the nature of the disaster and to collect, process and provide the vital information to the decision makers as quickly and as complete as possible. Fortunately over the years, the technology available to us has also improved. In this regard, FAO has gained substantial experience in the early warning technology through its GIEWS. The proposals made in the paper are to further establish and strengthen the linkage with national early warning systems in all countries of Asia and the Pacific to form an effective regional network.

50. This is even more important today since the nature of emergencies world wide is changing as we find globally there are likely to be just as many man-made disasters as there are natural ones. This changing nature of the emergencies requires the early warning systems to change and evolve in accord with the problems of food insecurity created by disasters and/or crises are not only supply driven but are also demand driven.

51. The past 25 years of experience of GIEWS has shown that the key ingredients of a strong and effective early warning system are - collaboration, institutional capacity building, state-of-the-art technology, and effective information-response linkage. The System has demonstrated that neutral and objective assessments, partnership with multilateral donor organisations, close contacts with major donor agencies and advocacy through media alerts and reports can help mitigate the disastrous effects on a large numbers of vulnerable people.

* Prepared by the Global Information and Early Warning Service.

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