Famine Early Warning Systems during Conflict

Seminar Paper, 2011

26 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction

2 Definitions

3 Food security and conflict
3.1 Conflict as cause of food insecurity
3.2 Food insecurity as cause of conflict
3.3 Reaction to food insecurity during conflict

4 Measuring of conflict and the integration into famine early warning systems

5 Case study: The Eritrean-Ethiopian war 1998-2000

6 Conclusion



Over 900 million people were suffering from hunger in 2010 and in December the United Nations basic food price index reached a new record. The resulting food insecurity is often of chronic nature but may be temporally increased due to events like draughts, floods or conflicts. To enable timely and adequate response it is important to identify and forecast the most urgent arising food security crises where extensive international aid is needed. For this purpose there exist several food security early warning systems. They track the status of food supply, food access, food utilization and food stability to monitor where a crisis is impending. While a wide range of production indicators covers the supply side, other pillars are lacking behind. Therefore new vulnerability and health indicators are developed for the integration into early warning systems.

This paper tries to draw attention to a partially neglected area in the intent to improve food security early warning systems - the link of food insecurity and conflict. While the endogenous importance of conflict for the general development and especially for prevailing poverty has been widely accepted in the economic literature (Bozzoli, Brück et al., 2008), the interrelationships between food security and conflict were overlooked. Recent publications (Carlton-Ford and Boop, 2010; Gráda, 2007; Messer and Cohen, 2006; Messer, Cohen et al., 2002; Teodosijevic, 2003 Falcon and Naylor, 2005; von Braun, 2009) now highlight this linkage while the World Development Report 2011 draws attention on the topic of conflict and development and the consequences on food security (The World Bank, 2011).

Although conflicts are seldom the only cause of hunger they play a major role in determining the people’s capabilities to respond to crisis. Thus the question is whether conflicts should be included into food security early warning systems. It might not only be important to predict shortages in food supply but to forecast the possible impact of accompanying conflicts on the consequences of a food security crisis. Vice versa considering underlying social and economic structures might be useful to evaluate the emergence of conflicts due to food insecurity, as it was the case in the 2008 food riots.

This paper tries to analyze this issue with the following approach: First the necessary background information on conflicts, food security and food security early warning systems will be given. The second step is to summarize current research on the relationship between food insecurity and conflict on macroeconomic as well as microeconomic level. We know only little about coping behavior in wartime (Justino, 2010) thus possible interactions will be discussed here as well. Since early warning systems (EWSs) necessarily have to be integrated into international relief systems the impact of conflicts on adequate responses to food insecurity will also be analysed. Afterwards the argumentation whether conflict analysis should be integrated into food security early warning systems or not will be presented and possible mechanisms of integration will be outlined.

Although the paper could only discuss aspects of the topic, it seems reasonable to suggest a stronger integration of conflict analysis into food security early warning systems based on the presented argumentation. This is backed up by the case study of the Eritrean-Ethiopian war from 1998-2000 where better conflict analysis could have improved responses to food insecurity. The question how it should be integrated remains open since currently conflict prediction is an open research question.


Food Security

Food security as a concept in development economics has evolved gradually in the last decades. From a mainly supply side driven definition it evolved towards the inclusion of food access as an important factor of food security to the nowadays comprehensive conceptualization which embeds food security in a framework of individual behaviour coping with uncertainty, irreversibility and binding constraints (Barrett, 2002).

The World food summit in 1996 thus described food security as the state when all people have continuous access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. According to this definition FAO, 2006 separates food security into four main pillars:

- Food availability: A sufficient quantity and quality of food, either supplied via domestic production or by imports/food aid.
- Food access: Here the entitlement (Sen, 1981) approach is included by requiring the individuals to have sufficient resources to access appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
- Food utilization: Besides supply and access the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines non-food inputs as clean water, sanitation etc. required for the utilization of food as a pillar of food security.
- Food stability: For the existence of food security, stable availability and access is crucial.

In the most severe cases of food insecurity, when destitution and starvation threat daily lives and populations face high risk of mortality due to the lack of one or more pillars, food insecurity becomes famine (USAID, 2011b).

Mass Violent Conflict

Conflicts inherently occur in every society (Keen, 1997) and while their interrelationship with the development process finds broad acceptance in the economic literature (Bozzoli, Brück et al., 2008), research on the impact on food security is rather scarcely. Still, some recent publications highlighted the linkage between conflict and food insecurity (Carlton-Ford and Boop, 2010; Gráda, 2007; Messer and Cohen, 2006; Messer, Cohen et al., 2002; Teodosijevic, 2003) and vice versa (Falcon and Naylor, 2005; von Braun, 2009). Furthermore the publication of the World Development Report 2011 will call attention on the topic of conflict and development and the consequences on food security (The World Bank, 2011).

Conflict was usually treated as en exogenous shock in the economic literature, but the endogeneity of conflict in the development process recently became more accepted among economists (Brück and Schindler, 2009; Stewart, 1993; Verwimp, Justino et al., 2009). It intrinsically derives from microeconomic choices made by individual actors and can be favoured by various macro- and microeconomic conditions (Anderton, 2010; Blattman and Miguel, 2010; Justino, 2009; Lubkemann, 2005; Verwimp, Justino et al., 2009).

Mass violent conflict as an outbreak of conflict into violence is described “as the systematic breakdowns of the social contract resulting from and/or leading to changes in social norms, which involve mass violence instigated through collective action” (Bozzoli, Brück et al., 2008).

Depending on the scale of mass violent conflict there exist different definitions. Based on the Correlates of War project - a long time leading dataset source on armed conflicts - 1,000 annual battle-related deaths qualify a conflict as a war whereas the Uppsala Conflict Data Program defines an armed conflict as a conflict with at least 25 battle-related deaths per year (Gleditsch, Wallensteen et al., 2002; Uppsala Conflict Data Program, 2010). In the text below I will use the words ‘armed conflict’, ‘war’ or just ‘conflict’ as short hand notation without further distinction.

In the extreme case conflicts can be distinguished in civil wars and international wars (Brück and Schindler, 2009), where civil wars - tended to come with higher human suffering (Ali and Lin, 2010; Teodosijevic, 2003) - account for an overwhelming majority, especially in areas affected by food insecurity (SIPRI, 2010). However, violence may be expressed not in the outbreak of war or armed conflict but in uprisings, mutinies, terrorism or organized crime (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2010; Brück and Schindler, 2009).

Food Security Early Warning Systems

While the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) was set up in 1975, the majority of Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) evolved in the late 1980s as a consequence of vast famines in Africa Buchanan-Smith, 2000. To anticipate upcoming food shortages forecasting system were installed on regional (FEWS NET by USAID), national level (majority of African EWS) or subnational level (Save the Children Fund) (Buchanan-Smith, Davies et al., 1991). Although they are usually called Famine Early Warning Systems, current systems do not only alarm once a famine is just about to take place but include various food insecurity scales where famine marks the worst case (USAID, 2011b).

Incorporating different indicators all systems basically share the same aim: “to monitor people’s access to food, in order to provide timely notice when a food crisis threatens and, thus, to elicit appropriate response” (Davies, Buchanan-Smith et al., 1991). Essential to notice is, that besides analysing various signs of food insecurity the integration of an EWS into a wider international relief system is of paramount importance (WHO, 2004).

Going into a more detailed view of food security monitoring FAO, 2000 regards the following four pillars as necessary:

- Agricultural production and livelihood monitoring, which corresponds to the necessity of food supply for food security.
- Market information systems, which observe domestic and international trade and price information. This is one part of monitoring food access since increasing food prices heighten the risk of food insecurity especially for the poorest. Although individual resources remain stable, they may not longer be sufficient for appropriate access to food.
- Food and nutritional surveillance systems, which monitor the health and nutrition of populations. Since food security does not only require a sufficient amount, but also a sufficient quality of food it is necessary to evaluate individual nutrition. By observing furthermore population’s state of health the food utilization pillar is included into the EWS.
- The monitoring of vulnerable people is important for the control of all four pillars ensuring the existence of food security on micro level.
- The fourth pillar of food security, food stability is not directly requested by the FAO but follows from a continuous monitoring of the above-mentioned objectives.

Although progress was made and efforts are undertaken to include more micro level data, most FEWSs today still cover mainly the former two pillars and include largely traditional indicators for crop production, rainfall data based on satellite imageries, weather reports or market price monitoring (Companion, 2008; FAO, 2010a; USAID, 2011a). Exceptions are systems working on the national level which incorporate the vulnerability approach and utilize proxies like unemployment or households not owning land (WFP, 2004) to evaluate household’s susceptibility to crisis (Stephen and Downing, 2001).1 2


Food insecurity poses a threat to the well being of mankind since centuries. Despite increasing food production in recent years and the millennium development goals initiative to half the hunger, the absolute number of starving people remains at a high level (FAO, 2010b). While food insecurity alone is a serious problem, the connection of hunger and conflict exacerbates it.3

Violent conflicts affect a country on different levels. On macro level economic growth is reduced, infrastructure destroyed, institutions are impaired, foreign investment inflows are inhibited and increased military expenditures increase debt burden and crowd out other government expenditures (Adil and Andre Varella, 2009; Bussmann, 2010; Gates, Hegre et al., 2010; Teodosijevic, 2003). On the micro level households are affected by killings, extensive injuries or psychological damage. Physical assets are looted or destroyed (Justino, 2009) and social assets in the form of communal relationships are impaired due to the events of war or completely dissolved as a result of conflict-induced migration. Often human capital building is weakened because ongoing warfare deters household members from schooling (Pinstrup-Andersen and Cohen, 1991). Besides these direct effects conflicts often entail indirect impacts like poverty or an augmented exposure to risks (Brück and Schindler, 2009; Gates, Hegre et al., 2010).

However, while most households will be worse off, conflicts can also open up potential benefits by raiding, redistribution of assets or the involvement in military industries by so called ‘war profiteers’ (Justino, 2010).

To explain my argumentation that conflicts also exacerbate food insecurity, I will analyze the various channels through which conflict and food insecurity interact.


1 For information on these and similar approaches as the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS) which „is a network of systems that assembles, analyses and disseminates information about people who are food-insecure or at risk“ (Devereux, Baulch et al., 2004) see FAO, 2000; Food Economy Group, 2008; Seaman, 2000; Stephen and Downing, 2001.

2 The household is considered as the smallest unit for the analysis of coping mechanisms in this paper. Although there is evidence that especially in crisis times the households - depending on power and vulnerability - may make choices in disadvantage of some individual household members to protect the household core (Devereux, 2001), I will stick to households as the most common unit of analysis (Brück and Schindler, 2009).

3 Messer and Cohen, 2006 and FAO, 2002 provide overviews on the common occurrence of conflicts and hunger.

Excerpt out of 26 pages


Famine Early Warning Systems during Conflict
Humboldt-University of Berlin
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FEWS, Early Warning Systems, Conflict, Famine
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Robert Messerle (Author), 2011, Famine Early Warning Systems during Conflict, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/177973


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