Famine prediction bleg

Over at The Guardian, Oxfam’s Max Lawson makes this assertion:

…. we have been banging our head against a brick wall from the beginning of the year, warning that an emergency was on its way. We have been talking for months about the complex combination of conflict, entrenched poverty, political marginalisation and the worst drought in 60 years – but commentators haven’t been interested, and governments don’t engage until the TV crews are on the ground and a disaster has been declared.

Really? I’ve had a (cursory) look, and can’t really find  bold predictions from any NGOs about the coming crisis prior to this Reuters report, which itself was based on Famine Early Warning System report two weeks earlier. It seems to me that Oxfam threw most of its clout behind the  GROW campaign this spring. This in itself isn’t a criticism – Oxfam believes that GROW is part of the solution to preventing future crisises – but would they have really chosen to spend several million dollars on a new campaign if they thought a famine was right around the corner?

So readers, this one is up to you: can any of you find an NGO which used the f-word (famine) prior to the release of the FEWS report? Not a general “we’re going to see more famine in the future” but something akin to “We’re going to see famine or something close to famine this year.”

I’m happy to be proven wrong on this one, but I think everyone was equally caught with their pants down.

Update: that was quick, Oxfam is vindicated (although still no f-word).

8 thoughts on “Famine prediction bleg

  1. Maxim

    September 20, 2011 at 5:33pm

    I remember hearing about warnings at least a few times in the last year. A Google News search, with keywords famine-horn of africa-kenya-somalia-uganda, from June 2010 to May 2011 provides quite a few results:


    Here is an October 2010 short note from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/16/world/africa/16briefs-UGANDA.html


  2. Matt

    September 20, 2011 at 5:47pm

    Maxim – those news results give earlier dates, but if you actually click on them, they all come up as late June, July and August.

    Yes, it appears the Ugandan government got it right – but the crisis hasn’t really affected Uganda, has it?

  3. Matt

    September 21, 2011 at 8:15am

    Alex – Thanks for the links – it does look like Africa governments were more on top of this crisis. The Valerie Amos video is actually from after the FEWS report (she specifically refers to declaring famine in two districts in Somalia). She claims they sounded the alarm a year ago and appealed for 1.6 billion dollars…. but I haven’t yet found a direct source for that appeal.

  4. Laura

    September 21, 2011 at 10:34am

    “still no f-word”

    True, but Max Lawson didn’t say they’d been predicting a famine – he said an ’emergency’, which isn’t the same thing. The press release calls it a ‘catastrophe’ which seems roughly equivalent to emergency.

  5. Sam Gardner

    September 22, 2011 at 6:01am

    There was an important push from ICRC to get additional funding in late 2010. But I think there was a general failing of early warning to donors, or worse, the failing to allocation some of this flexible funding. The flexible funds we are told that will be spent timely according to needs.

    In 2010 there was such an appeal for Niger, and famine was averted.

  6. Jeremy

    September 23, 2011 at 2:55pm

    Matt – Many NGOs were making this case privately to the USG, and the USG and other donors were also seeing the earlier FEWS reports. I think that the reluctance to use the F word publicly was because we’re all sensitive to the criticism of throwing that word around loosely.

    I did publish a piece calling out the prospect of famine several weeks prior to the formal declaration – perhaps not early enough to meet your standard:


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