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improved disaster response tool
November 14, 2007
A new tool has been developed
to help humanitarian agencies and donors analyse a disaster situation,
make a comparison with another disaster that might be unfolding
in a different part of the globe, and plan and prioritise their
response to a particular crisis accordingly.
The Food Security Analysis
Unit (FSAU) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in
Somalia developed a comprehensive situation analysis early warning
tool in 2004, which uses a "common currency to describe the
nature and severity of a crisis", said Nicholas Haan, the unit's
former chief technical advisor, who developed the concept.
The need for a "common
currency", as provided by the Integrated Food Security and
Humanitarian Phase Classification Framework (IPC), was perhaps best
illustrated by conditions in northern Somalia. FSAU had made detailed
field assessments in 2004, when Somaliland and Puntland regions
were involved in a border dispute while experiencing a third successive
year of drought.
The unit "needed
a means to clearly communicate the differential affects of the drought
in those areas, but to do so in an objective way - some of our field
analysts were even receiving death threats to bias the analysis,"
"We also needed
to make the analysis less complicated and more meaningful for action;
thus, the IPC was developed. Immediately, the politicisation of
the analysis - including within the international community - was
muted, and thereafter humanitarian assistance became better coordinated
and shifted to those areas most in need. That's when we became convinced
of the value of an evidence-based classification system."
The IPC defines the severity
of a situation using a five-phase scale ranging from "generally
food secure" to "famine/humanitarian catastrophe",
based on comprehensive data on the impact of the crisis on food
security and nutrition.
"Without this common
currency it is very difficult to make objective decisions on resource
allocation and programme design, both within and across countries,"
"For many years
the food security analysis community has been looking for the 'silver-bullet'
methodology, or a single indicator, to provide rigour and comparability
in the analysis. While progress has been made, we are still far
from resolving the methodological debates (for both technical and
institutional reasons). At the same time, we often miss the big-picture
analysis of a crisis, and the range of most appropriate solutions."
Crisis assessments vary
from agency to agency, who could use one or more indicators to base
their findings on. The IPC offers a way of bringing these multiple
data sources and methods together, and enable comparability through
"big picture" analysis.
"From an analyst's
point of view, surely, we would like more data, but we also have
a responsibility to provide better analysis to decision-makers -
not just throw up our hands when the perfect data set does not exist
... we need to make the best use of what we do have," Haan
In addition to Somalia,
the IPC is being rolled out in 10 countries in East and West Africa.
The possibility of a rollout in southern Africa will be discussed
later in November.
The FAO is working with
an initial global partnership of the World Food Programme, the USAID-funded
Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET), Save the Children-UK/US,
Oxfam, the US charity, CARE, and the European Joint Research Council
to coordinate further application and development of the IPC.
"The full value
of the IPC can only be realised if key stakeholders are on board,
which includes international agencies as well as national governments,
with whom we are in direct consultation," said the FAO's Luca
Independent food security
analysts Mark Lawrence and Nick Maunder pointed out in an assessment
of the IPC for the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme,
which assists policy-makers and practitioners concerned with food
security and social protection in southern Africa, that the "quality
of the analysis ultimately remains dependent on the quality of the
data ... equally, the quality of the product depends on the quality
of the analysts."
Daniel Maxwell, associate
professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
at the Boston-based Tufts University, said the idea of "enabling
comparative analysis across different contexts with a common set
of analytical tools is critical to improve the impartial allocation
of resources to responding to humanitarian crises. There is no question,
however, that in many cases, existing data are not as good as they
are for Somalia, where the IPC was invented."
On the other hand, the
IPC was "not a substitute for improving ... data sources on
the ground in different contexts, and was never intended as such",
Haan said questions concerning
the quality and timeliness of analysis were "a generic problem
to all food-security analysis in developing countries", and
any deficiencies highlighted could be improved upon. The information
fed into the system ranged from nutrition data to the state of civil
security and level of displacement of the affected population.
Chris Leather, southern
Africa regional food-security advisor at the UK-based development
agency, Oxfam, said the analytical tool could also help improve
accountability in planning a humanitarian response.
"Because of the
common process of analysis, the approach requires all the humanitarian
agencies to come together and share their data, to reach a consensus
on what the situation is and plan their response - it forces them
[agencies] into being transparent," he added.
"It is not uncommon
for organisations [at present] to take up valuable time responding
individually and not coordinating with other agencies, which often
leads to a fragmented approach."
In southern Africa, where
HIV/AIDS is billed as the biggest disaster, Haan said the prevalence
of the pandemic "would be a strong contributing factor to the
analysis, and may very well warrant categorising those worst-affected
areas as a humanitarian emergency; the whole point being to avoid
what is termed 'normalisation of crisis'."
However, the IPC, "as
it is currently designed, is a tool that attempts to do this for
food security, and draws from other sectors inasmuch as they affect
food security," he explained.
Haan said there was growing
interest in using the IPC approach for other sectors as such as
health, water, protection and shelter. "The case of HIV/AIDS
in southern Africa would be an excellent example of the value of
developing such a classification system for health."
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