Food crises are the deadliest natural disasters, resulting in up to 2 million deaths since 1970, yet responses to them are reactive, slow and fragmented.

A new report, Managing Famine Risk: Linking Early Warning to Early Action argues that whilst famine early warning systems have a good track record of predicting food crises, they have a poor track record of triggering early action to protect lives and livelihoods.

Major improvements in the sophistication and capabilities of famine early warning systems provide the opportunity for decisive early action, but also the opportunity for prevarication, delay and buck-passing among governments and humanitarian agencies.

There is also added political pressure not to report food crises, says Rob Bailey, the report’s author.

'Governments in at-risk countries may suppress famine early warnings if they are concerned it will challenge their record on hunger reduction,' he said.

Addressing this requires that governments anticipate political reward from acting to reduce famine risk, and an expectation that they will be penalized for failing to do so.

Governments are also less likely to respond to early warnings if the affected communities are politically marginalized. These communities are also likely to be given less priority in spending and policymaking, with the result that they are more vulnerable to drought. 

Rapid population growt h, low agricultural yields and rapid environmental change all mean that the risk of food crises such as those which affected the Sahel in 2012 and the Horn of Africa the year before remain a serious threat.

Notes to Editors

Read the full report >>

The report is the culmination of the Chatham House research project Translating Famine Early Warning into Early Action, examining the political, institutional and organizational barriers to responding to famine e arly warnings within the humanitarian system and vulnerable countries.

The author [directory 176397 190607]is available for interview. Please contact him on +44 (0) 7786 363 009.