Skip to main content

How accurate is food security early warning? Evaluation of FEWS NET accuracy in Ethiopia

Abstract

Famine early warning systems are fundamental for anticipating and preventing food security crises. These systems require diverse socio-economic, climate and other environmental indicators. However, the uncertainty that is inherent in climate forecasts and other early warning data can influence the accuracy of early warning systems. Inaccurate forecasts result in ineffective preparedness and poor resource allocation. We present a replicable method to evaluate the accuracy of the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) food security projections. The analysis was carried out for Ethiopia over the period January 2011 to June 2017. The findings show high levels of accuracy in the system overall which should give decision makers a high degree of confidence in using the information provided by FEWS NET. The results indicate higher accuracy in the western parts of the country and lower accuracy in the generally food insecure northeastern regions – likely due to insufficient information and high levels of vulnerability. In addition, we found a significant decrease in accuracy during the 2015/2016 El Niño, likely linked to the heterogeneous impacts from El Niño and higher levels of forecast uncertainty. The results also show mixed forecasting accuracy in situations of transition from food security to food crises and point to geographical areas where investments in early warning data collection and analysis would likely yield valuable improvements in the performance of the system.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Adams, R. M., Houston, L. L., McCarl, B. A., Tiscareño, M., Matus, J., & Weiher, R. F. (2003). The benefits to Mexican agriculture of an El Niño-southern oscillation (ENSO) early warning system. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 115(3–4), 183–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bailey, R. (2012). Famine early warning and early action: The cost of delay. London: Chatham House.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Braimoh, A., Manyena, B. Obuya, G. & Muraya, F. (2018). Assessment of Food Security Early Warning Systems for East and Southern Africa. Africa Climate Business Plan Series, World Bank, Washington, DC. World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29269 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  4. Brown, M. E. (2008). Famine early warning systems and remote sensing data. Germany: Springer Science & Business Media.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Brown, M. E., & Funk, C. C. (2008). Food security under climate change. Science, 319, 580–558.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Cabot Venton, C. (2016). The Economic Case for Early Humanitarian Response to the Ethiopia 2015/2016 Drought, Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5567b109e4b0101076d7f0bd/t/581b75e0cd0f68b05009b283/1478194658325/Ethiopia+Contingency+Analysis.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  7. Carvalho, D., Rocha, A., Gómez-Gesteira, M., & Santos, C. S. (2014). Comparison of reanalyzed, analyzed, satellite-retrieved and NWP modeled winds with buoy data along the Iberian Peninsula coast. Remote Sensing of Environment, 152, 480–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Choularton, R. (2007). Contingency planning and humanitarian action: A review of the practice. Overseas Development Institute, UK, Humanitarian Practice Network.

  9. Choularton, R., Frankenberger, T., Kurtz, J., & Nelson, S. (2015). Measuring shocks and stressors as part of resilience measurement, resilience measurement technical working group. Technical series no. 5. Rome: Food Security Information Network.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Coughlan de Perez, E., van Aalst, M., Choularton, R., van den Hurk, B., Mason, S., Nissan, H., & Schwager, S. (2019). From rain to famine: Assessing the utility of rainfall observations and seasonal forecasts to anticipate food insecurity in East Africa. Food Security, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-018-00885-9.

  11. De Waal, A. (2018). Mass starvation: The history and future of famine. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Downing, T. 2003. Toward a vulnerability/adaptation science: Lessons from famine early warning and food security. In Climate change adaptive capacity and development, ed. J. B. Smith, R. J. T. Klein, and S. Huq, 77–100. London: Imperial College Press.

  13. Enenkel, M., See, L., Bonifacio, R., Boken, V., Chaney, N., Vinck, P., You, L., Dutra, E., & Anderson, M. (2015a). Drought and food security–improving decision-support via new technologies and innovative collaboration. Global Food Security, 4, 51–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Enenkel, M., See, L., Karner, M., Álvarez, M., Rogenhofer, E., Baraldès-Vallverdú, C., Lanusse, C. & Salse, N. (2015b). Food security monitoring via mobile data collection and remote sensing: Results from the Central African Republic. PloS One, 10(11), p.e0142030.

  15. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. (2017). The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2017. Building resilience for peace and food security. Rome, FAO. Available at: https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000022419/download/?_ga=2.172148192.254743601.1517331528-1003727597.1509551064. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  16. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. (2018). The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2018. Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. Rome, FAO.

  17. FEWS NET. (2015a). Ethiopia Food Security Outlook October 2015 to March 2016. Available at http://fews.net/east-africa/ethiopia/foodsecurity-outlook/october-2015. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  18. FEWS NET. (2015b). Ethiopia Food Security Outlook July to December 2015. Available at http://fews.net/east-africa/ethiopia/food-security-outlook/july-2015. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  19. FEWS NET. (2015c). Ethiopia Food Security Outlook April to September 2015 Available at http://fews.net/east-africa/ethiopia/food-security-outlook/april-2015. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  20. FEWS NET. (2016). Ethiopia Food Security Outlook February to September 2016. Available at http://fews.net/east-africa/ethiopia/food-security-outlook/february-2016. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  21. FEWS NET. (2017a). Food Insecurity Mapping. Available at: http://fews.net/fews-data/334. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  22. FEWS NET. (2017b). Global Alert: Very large assistance needs and famine risk will continue in 2018. Available at: http://www.fews.net/global/alert/november-28-2017. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  23. FEWS NET. (2018a). Hunger-related Mortality Likely as IPC Phase 4 Outcomes and Large-Scale Assistance Needs Persist. Available at: https://fews.net/sites/default/files/Food_assistance_peak_needs_2019.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  24. FEWS NET. (2018b). Agroclimatology: Analyzing the effects of weather and climate on food security. Available at: http://fews.net/sites/default/files/White%20Paper%20-%20Agroclimatology%20-%20Aug2017v2.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  25. FEWS NET. (2018c). Building rainfall assumptions for scenario development. Washington, DC: FEWS NET. Available at: https://fews.net/sites/default/files/documents/reports/Guidance_Document_Rainfall_2018.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  26. Food Security Information Network (FSIN) Resilience Measurement Technical Working Group. (2014). A Common Analytical Model for Resilience Measurement: Causal Framework and Methodological Options, Available at: http://www.fsincop.net/resource-centre/detail/en/c/267086/. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  27. Funk, C., Peterson, P., Landsfeld, M., Pedreros, D., Verdin, J., Shukla, S., Husak, G., Rowland, J., Harrison, L., Hoell, A., & Michaelsen, J. (2014). The climate hazards infrared precipitation with stations—a new environmental record for monitoring extremes. Scientific Data, 2, 150066.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gleixner, S., Keenlyside, N., Viste, E., & Korecha, D. (2017). The El Niño effect on Ethiopian summer rainfall. Climate Dynamics, 49(5–6), 1865–1883.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Headey, D.D., & Ecker, O. (2012). IFPRI Discussion Paper: Improving the measurement of food security, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Available at: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/improving-measurement-food-security.

  30. Hillbruner, C., & Moloney, G. (2012). When early warning is not enough—Lessons learned from the 2011 Somalia famine. Global Food Security, 1(1), 20–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hillier, D., & Dempsey, B. (2012). A dangerous delay: the cost of late response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the horn of Africa. Oxfam Policy and Practice: Agriculture, Food and Land, 12(1), 1–34.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Howe, P., & Devereux, S. (2004). Famine intensity and magnitude scales: a proposal for an instrumental definition of famine. Disasters, 28, 353–372.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Husak, G. J., Funk, C. C., Michaelsen, J., Magadzire, T., & Goldsberry, K. P. (2013). Developing seasonal rainfall scenarios for food security early warning. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 114(1–2), 291–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. IPC Global Partners. (2012). Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Technical Manual Version 2.0. Evidence and Standards for Better Food Security Decisions. FAO. Rome.

  35. Jolliffe, I. T., & Stephenson, D. B. (Eds.). (2012). Forecast verification: a practitioner’s guide in atmospheric science (2nd ed.). Chippenham: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Jones, A. D., Ngure, F. M., Pelto, G., & Young, S. L. (2013). What are we assessing when we measure food security? A compendium and review of current metrics. American Society for Nutrition. Advances in Nutrition, 4, 481–505.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kim, J. J., & Guha-Sapir, D. (2012). Famines in Africa: is early warning early enough? Global Health Action, 5, 18481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Korecha, D., & Barnston, A. G. (2007). Predictability of June–September rainfall in Ethiopia. Monthly Weather Review, 135(2), 628–650.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Krishnamurthy, P. K., Lewis, K., & Choularton, R. J. (2014). A methodological framework for rapidly assessing the impacts of climate risk on national-level food security through a vulnerability index. Global Environmental Change, 25, 121–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lenton, T. M. (2013). What early warning systems are there for environmental shocks? Environmental Science and Policy, 27, S60–S75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Lyon, B. (2014). Seasonal drought in the greater horn of Africa and its recent increase during the March-May long rains. Journal of Climate, 27(21), 7953–7975.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Meza, F. J., Hansen, J. W., & Osgood, D. (2008). Economic value of seasonal climate forecasts for agriculture: review of ex-ante assessments and recommendations for future research. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 47(5), 1269–1286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Morrow, N., Mock, N., Bauer, J. M., & Browning, J. (2016). Knowing just in time: use cases for mobile surveys in the humanitarian world. Procedia Engineering, 159, 210–216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Philip, S., Kew, S. F., Jan van Oldenborgh, G., Otto, F., O’Keefe, S., Haustein, K., King, A., Zegeye, A., Eshetu, Z., Hailemariam, K., & Singh, R. (2018). Attribution analysis of the Ethiopian drought of 2015. Journal of Climate, 31(6), 2465–2486.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Rogers, D. & Tsirkunov, V. (2011). Costs and benefits of early warning systems. Global Assessment Report, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2011/en/bgdocs/Rogers_&_Tsirkunov_2011.pdf.

  46. Seleshi, Y., & Zanke, U. (2004). Recent changes in rainfall and rainy days in Ethiopia. International Journal of Climatology, 24(8), 973–983.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Shen, Y., Zhao, P., Pan, Y., & Yu, J. (2014). A high spatiotemporal gauge-satellite merged precipitation analysis over China. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, 119(6), 3063–3075.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Smith, S. A., Vosper, S. B., & Field, P. R. (2015). Sensitivity of orographic precipitation enhancement to horizontal resolution in the operational Met Office Weather forecasts. Meteorological Applications, 22(1), 14–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. USAID & DRMFSS. (2011). An atlas of Ethiopian livelihoods. USAID/DRMFSS: Addis Ababa.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Vaughan, C., & Dessai, S. (2014). Climate services for society: origins, institutional arrangements, and design elements for an evaluation framework. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(5), 587–603.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. WFP. (2016). WFP El Niño Response in Ethiopia. Available at: https://www.wfp.org/content/wfp-el-nino-response-ethiopia. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

  52. Wilkinson, E., Wiengärtner, L., Choularton, R., Bailey, M., Todd, M., Kniveton, D., & Cabot Venton, C. (2018). Forecasting hazards, averting disasters: Implementing forecast-based action at scale. London: Overseas Development Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Wu, B., Meng, J., Li, Q., Yan, N., Du, X., & Zhang, M. (2014). Remote sensing-based global crop monitoring: experiences with China’s CropWatch system. International Journal of Digital Earth, 7(2), 113–137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was carried out with the support of Tetra Tech International Development Services, a leading science-based consulting firm.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard J. Choularton.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Both authors declared that they have no conflicts of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Choularton, R.J., Krishnamurthy, P.K. How accurate is food security early warning? Evaluation of FEWS NET accuracy in Ethiopia. Food Sec. 11, 333–344 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-019-00909-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Early warning systems
  • Food security
  • Skill∙ FEWS NET
  • Accuracy
  • Climate services