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News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Millions of people in South Sudan, a nation in northeastern Africa, are suffering from one of the most devastating famines in decades. Brought on by drought, war, and widespread instability, this looming crisis was recognized back in 2015 by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), an organization created by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to monitor potential humanitarian disasters in food-insecure regions around the world. Following the warnings of FEWS NET, the United Nations formally declared the situation a famine in February, spurring an international effort to slow the horrific consequences of the emergency, which affects half of the South Sudanese population—including over one million children. It can be easy to feel powerless in the face of this catastrophe, but FEWS NET has developed an innovative way for anyone with an internet connection to support the recovery efforts of relief workers on the ground. The network is working with with DigitalGlobe, a Colorado-based satellite company that offers the highest resolution satellite imagery commercially available—30 to 50 centimeters per pixel—on a crowdsourcing campaign run by DigitalGlobe's Tomnod platform. Using Tomnod, which means "big eye" in Mongolian, users can sift through detailed satellite images of the South Sudanese counties impacted by the famine and tag key features like permanent settlements, temporary camps, and livestock herds. This provides workers on the ground with a constantly updated picture of where refugees are seeking shelter, how accessible they are to humanitarian aid, and the emergency level at each location. "Given the context in South Sudan right now, there's been a very high level of displacement [and] all we had were anecdotal reports of where these populations were concentrating," FEWS NET deputy chief Chris Hillbruner told me over the phone. In partnering with DigitalGlobe, Hillbruner and his colleagues wanted to learn "how can we use different kinds of data, technology, and analysis to understand these patterns of displacement better." In late 2015, FEWS NET and DigitalGlobe launched their first South Sudanese campaign on Tomnod, which attracted roughly 20,000 of the platform's users, according to Rhiannan Price, senior manager of DigitalGlobe's global development program. "The crowd was able to go through an area of about 14,000 square kilometers in two weeks," logging about 46,000 data points, she told me in a joint phone call with Hillbruner. "From a technical perspective, it was incredible to see what the crowd was able to do, and to be able to rally that for a humanitarian cause in a very far-flung area really helped when it came to extracting insights at scale." Read More: African Villagers Use Satellite Data to Help Save Wild Chimpanzees To build on the success of that effort, FEWS NET and DigitalGlobe kicked off a second Tomnod campaign last month, focused on Panyijiar, Leer, Guit, Koch, and Mayendit counties, which are at the epicenter of the crisis. Given that the situation is still actively unfolding, it's important to refresh the satellite data, and to monitor the dynamics of displacement over both short and long-term periods. "This kind of analysis helps us to hone in on a more realistic estimate of what the sizes of these populations are," Hillbruner said. "By taking the 2015 analysis and comparing it to 2017, we can try to understand how those patterns are changing." Tomnod is one of many satellite-based platforms that support humanitarian and environmental watchdog efforts, such as Global Fishing Watch or the Open Landscape Partnership Platform, but it is particularly popular thanks to a 2014 campaign to pinpoint wreckage from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. About 2.3 million volunteers contributed to that cause. Partnerships between tech companies and humanitarian organizations may be even more essential during the Trump administration, given that the President has repeatedly stressed his aversion to funding foreign relief programs. In his budget outline, released in March, Trump suggested that "deep cuts to foreign aid" were essential to "prioritize the security and well-being of Americans" and to spur "the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share." FEWS NET is among many groups rumored to be marked for heavy cuts, or even elimination, by the administration. Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.

Avelino J.,CIRAD - Agricultural Research for Development | Avelino J.,Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center | Cristancho M.,National Coffee Research Center | Georgiou S.,Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center | And 7 more authors.
Food Security | Year: 2015

Coffee rust is a leaf disease caused by the fungus, Hemileia vastatrix. Coffee rust epidemics, with intensities higher than previously observed, have affected a number of countries including: Colombia, from 2008 to 2011; Central America and Mexico, in 2012–13; and Peru and Ecuador in 2013. There are many contributing factors to the onset of these epidemics e.g. the state of the economy, crop management decisions and the prevailing weather, and many resulting impacts e.g. on production, on farmers’ and labourers’ income and livelihood, and on food security. Production has been considerably reduced in Colombia (by 31 % on average during the epidemic years compared with 2007) and Central America (by 16 % in 2013 compared with 2011–12 and by 10 % in 2013–14 compared with 2012–13). These reductions have had direct impacts on the livelihoods of thousands of smallholders and harvesters. For these populations, particularly in Central America, coffee is often the only source of income used to buy food and supplies for the cultivation of basic grains. As a result, the coffee rust epidemic has had indirect impacts on food security. The main drivers of these epidemics are economic and meteorological. All the intense epidemics experienced during the last 37 years in Central America and Colombia were concurrent with low coffee profitability periods due to coffee price declines, as was the case in the 2012–13 Central American epidemic, or due to increases in input costs, as in the 2008–11 Colombian epidemics. Low profitability led to suboptimal coffee management, which resulted in increased plant vulnerability to pests and diseases. A common factor in the recent Colombian and Central American epidemics was a reduction in the diurnal thermal amplitude, with higher minimum/lower maximum temperatures (+0.1 °C/-0.5 °C on average during 2008–2011 compared to a low coffee rust incidence period, 1991–1994, in Chinchiná, Colombia; +0.9 °C/-1.2 °C on average in 2012 compared with prevailing climate, in 1224 farms from Guatemala). This likely decreased the latency period of the disease. These epidemics should be considered as a warning for the future, as they were enhanced by weather conditions consistent with climate change. Appropriate actions need to be taken in the near future to address this issue including: the development and establishment of resistant coffee cultivars; the creation of early warning systems; the design of crop management systems adapted to climate change and to pest and disease threats; and socio-economic solutions such as training and organisational strengthening. © 2015, The Author(s).

Salama P.,UNICEF | Moloney G.,Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit | Moloney G.,Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations | Bilukha O.O.,Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | And 9 more authors.
Global Food Security | Year: 2012

Objective: On 20 July 2011, for the first time since 1991-1992, the United Nations declared famine in parts of Somalia. Here, we report the methods, data and analysis that underpinned this declaration along with the review of trends in mortality and malnutrition. Methods: During July 2011, 16 population-based nutrition and mortality surveys were conducted in southern Somalia. Data on food access, collected through seasonal assessments and monthly monitoring, were analyzed using Household Economy methods. Results: In 11 of 16 survey locations, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition exceeded the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification threshold for Phase 5 (Famine) of 30%. In five areas, Crude Death Rates exceeded the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phase 5 (Famine) threshold of 2/10,000/day. In agro-pastoral zones of the south, where access was most limited, more than 20% of households faced extreme food shortages. Comment: Survey findings and analysis confirm that a famine occurred in parts of southern Somalia during 2011 and raise the question of why strong early warning analysis did not trigger an earlier, better funded and more effective, response. © 2012 Elsevier B.V..

Hillbruner C.,FEWS NET | Moloney G.,Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit Somalia
Global Food Security | Year: 2012

Starting in July 2011, the United Nations made a series of public famine declarations for southern Somalia, based on joint technical analysis by the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU). During the 11 months prior to the Famine declaration, early warning was provided by FEWS NET and FSNAU, including a specific Famine warning in March 2011. While early warning has been provided in advance of many past food crises, these early warnings were notable in terms of the timeliness, quantity and quality of the warning provided, and the use of a formalized Famine definition. However, in the absence of incentives for early action, preventable food security emergencies are likely to persist, regardless of the quality of the early warnings that is provided. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.

Brown M.E.,NASA | Tondel F.,FEWS NET | Essam T.,University of Maryland College Park | Thorne J.A.,College of William and Mary | And 4 more authors.
Global Environmental Change | Year: 2012

Large price increases over a short time period can be indicative of a deteriorating food security situation. Food price indices developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization are often used to monitor food price trends at a global level, but largely reflect supply and demand conditions in export markets. However, reporting by the United States Agency for International Development's Famine Early Warning Systems Network indicates that staple cereal prices in many markets of the developing world, especially in regions that are food insecure areas, are isolated from international export market price trends. Here we present country and regional staple food price indices compiled for improved food security monitoring and assessment, and specifically for monitoring conditions of food access across diverse food insecure regions. We examine the market integration of regional and country level staple food price indices for 35 countries in West, East and Southern Africa and in Central Asia and Central America. We found that cereal price indices constructed using local market prices of within a food insecure region showed significant differences from the international cereals price, and had a variable price dispersion across markets within each marketshed. This work supports the need for improved decision-making about targeted aid and humanitarian relief, by providing earlier warning of food security crises. © 2012.

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