Why don’t early warning systems give us early warnings?

About 12-13 million Ethiopians need food relief or emergency assistance as a result of the failure of the short rains in southern Ethiopia, according to AFP:

The lack of rain in the main February to April wet season has left at least 75,000 Ethiopian children under age five at risk from malnutrition, OCHA said. …

The United Nations appealed in June for 325.2 million dollars mainly for drought victims . Only 52 percent of the appeal has been met.

I don’t understand how this can happen. We presumably knew – or could have known – in April that the short rains had failed, and that there would be hunger in southern Ethiopia. So how is it that we find ourselves in September – at least 4 full months later – and we’ve only raised half the money we need to prevent people from dying of hunger?

I am told that the food shortages were accurately predicted by the experts as early as May. But this predictions don’t translate into political pressure, and thus funding, until there are pictures on TV of children with distended bellies and flies on their face.

So the question for the future is: how can we translate warnings about food shortages into a flow of the necessary resources without having to wait for people to start to die?

2 thoughts on “Why don’t early warning systems give us early warnings?”

  1. I think what we need is to stop raising funds tied to specific events. We need consistent higher levels of funding so that we don’t have to run around at the last minute. Funds unspent on food crisis in better years could support better agricultural practices.

  2. You raise an excellent question. It is all bureacratic. Ethiopia could feed all the hungry with a drop of a hat. It is just a matter of exerting one’s will. You can’t tell me you can finance a war and not be able to feed the poor, at almost no cost.

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