Mon 28 Mar 2011
I sat through an outstanding FEWS-NET briefing today at work – some of the material falls under the heading of sensitive but unclassified (SBU), which basically means I can’t give details on it here. However, the publicly-available information from the briefing (link here – click on the near-term and medium-term tabs) makes it clear that there are really bad things taking place in parts of the Horn of Africa right now that are likely to result in large areas being extremely food insecure, which FEWS-NET defines as:
Households face substantial or prolonged shortfalls in their ability to meet basic food requirements. Reduced food intake is widespread, resulting in significantly increased rates of acute malnutrition and increasing mortality. Significant erosion of assets is occurring, and households are gradually moving towards destitution.
To summarize, people are dying due to food insecurity in the Horn of Africa right now, and it is going to get a whole lot worse for the next 6 or so months.
The briefing was very well run and presented, and the question session afterward was generally quite informative. FEWS-NET is a remarkable tool – I think it is probably the best food insecurity assessment tool in the world right now – and I am engaged with thinking about how to make their assessments and projections even more accurate. So I had a sort of technical disconnect from the meaning of the data during the briefing – to me, the numbers were data points that could be parsed differently to better understand what was actually taking place.
I returned to my desk, head buzzing with ways to reframe some of the analysis, but before I could get to writing anything down, an email came in telling me that the wife of one of my closest friends had passed away from ovarian cancer. She was 41, and leaves behind my friend and their very young son. For some reason, in that moment all of my data points became people, tens of thousands of mothers, fathers and children whose loss was beyond tragic.
That was it for me. I logged out, walked out of the office, and went to get my oldest daughter out of preschool an hour early. Somebody needs to parse the data, to reframe and retheorize what we see happening in places like the Horn of Africa so we can respond better and reduce the occurrence and impact of future events. But not me, not today.