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FAO's endeavours in early warning and relief



Policy-makers and relief agencies need the most up-to-date and accurate information available on all aspects of food supply and demand. FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System for Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) issues regular bulletins on food crop production and markets at the global level and situation reports on a regional and country-by-country basis. GIEWS warns of imminent food problems so that interventions can be planned and suffering avoided. To achieve this goal, the system:

· monitors food supply and demand in all countries of the world on a continuous basis;

· compiles and analyses information on global production, stocks, trade and food aid and monitors export prices and developments on main grain exchanges;

· reacts to human-made or natural disasters by sending rapid evaluation missions to the countries affected and issuing special alerts and special reports which are quickly disseminated to the international community;

· reports to the international community through its regular publications, one-off reports and Internet server;

· answers specific requests for information from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutions and individuals;

· develops new approaches for providing early warning.

While the system has global coverage, particular emphasis is placed on the countries and regions where food emergencies are most likely to occur. The system has also taken the lead in generating information on the food situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and eastern Europe.

Country-by-country monitoring allows GIEWS to gain an in-depth understanding of developments in global food markets. It also allows policy analysts to gain a subregional or regional perspective on food questions. GIEWS's country monitoring concentrates on a group of some 80 low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). Food security in these countries is particularly vulnerable to crop failure or high international cereal prices.

GIEWS is operated by the Commodities and Trade Division of FAO. Its crop yield monitoring activities are supported by FAO's Environment and Natural Resources Service, which also processes and provides real-time satellite images through FAO's ARTEMIS (African Real-Time Environmental Monitoring using Imaging Satellites). Information on migratory pest movements and control operations is provided on a regular basis by the Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO) and the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES). The Food and Nutrition Division, the Special Relief Operations Service and the Policy Coordinating Service work closely with GIEWS. FAO-supported regional and national early warning and food information systems are planned and implemented by the Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service. FAO's regional, subregional and national offices facilitate the flow of information from governmental and intergovernmental authorities.

The World Food Programme (WFP) collaborates with GIEWS through periodic coordination meetings, joint missions, exchange of published information and daily informal and official contact. GIEWS also participates in interagency missions under the auspices of the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which make sector-by-sector estimates of relief needs in disaster-affected countries. Most of the missions are dispatched to countries where natural or warfare-related disasters are known to have occurred, although regular missions are launched to some of the most food-insecure countries and subregions.

GIEWS is an open forum for the exchange of information on food security. Economic, political and agricultural information is received from a wide variety of official and unofficial sources. Since 1975, institutional links and information-sharing agreements have been forged with 113 governments, three regional organizations and 60 NGOs. Numerous international research institutes, news services and private-sector organizations also collaborate.


Since the early 1970s, FAO has designated a specific office to act as focal point for emergency interventions in agriculture and related sectors. The Special Relief Operations Service acts as FAO's front line in the Organization's disaster assistance efforts. It responds to requests for emergency assistance in the agricultural, livestock and fisheries sectors submitted by developing countries afflicted by exceptional natural calamities (such as drought, floods, cyclones or hurricanes, crop pest infestations or epidemic animal diseases) or human-made disasters (emergency situations caused by war, civil strife or political upheaval).

FAO emergency assistance covers a wide range of activities to rehabilitate disaster-stricken areas. The Special Relief Operations Service also assists developing countries in establishing preparedness and post-emergency measures. Activities include:

· assessment and monitoring of emergency requirements in the agro-economic and livestock sectors;

· mobilization and coordination of donor support;

· execution of urgent relief operations through the provision of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and pesticides; agricultural equipment such as small tools, farm machinery, irrigation and fishery equipment; veterinary and feed supplies and breeding animals; and logistic facilities, including vehicles and spare parts, workshops and training courses. The procurement of materials and implementation of projects begin shortly after the emergency has occurred. These activities are followed by early rehabilitation efforts. The early relief and rehabilitation operations can serve as entry points for improvement of farming practices and provide opportunities for planning the transition from emergency to development.

Emergency relief and rehabilitation projects are financed by contributions from governmental and non-governmental agencies, United Nations agencies and FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme. FAO headquarters staff collaborate with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs in obtaining funds and with the FAO Representatives within the countries in implementation of the projects. In 1996, FAO's Special Relief Operations Service provided emergency assistance in Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, Europe and the Near East.

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