Towards Anticipatory Information Systems and Action: Notes on Early Warning and Early Action in East Africa

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Despite humanitarian information being more available than ever, confusion persists as to what the information means, how to analyze it and turn it into actionable evidence, and how to ensure that evidence-based actions are actually undertaken on a timely basis. The key points of confusion and issues include:

  • The difference between current status information, projections of populations in need, and early warning of threats or hazards.
  • The difference between “hard” numbers (implying things that have already happened and can be counted) versus probabilistic information (implying things that are likely, but not certain, to happen).
  • Linkages, or the lack thereof, between information systems and policy or programmatic action to anticipate, mitigate, or respond to a shock or worsening situation.
  • Despite the fact that conflict is the most common factor driving extreme humanitarian crises, conflict analysis is the weakest part of early warning and information systems.
  • The information systems do not (or minimally) engage with the communities at risk of shocks or resulting humanitarian crises.

This paper reviews these and a number of additional issues with contemporary humanitarian information and early warning systems. While the cases focus on the East Africa region, they have broader implications as well.

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Daniel Maxwell

Acting Director, Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, USA
Dan Maxwell leads the research program on food security and livelihoods in complex emergencies at the Feinstein International Center, where he is also leads the overall strategy of the center. Dan works with governments, humanitarian agencies, and affected communities at the grass roots, national, and regional levels to build the evidence base for improved humanitarian and resilience programming and policy. He developed the coping strategies index (CSI), one of the most commonly used food security indicators that enables governments and NGOs responding to crises to quickly understand the food security status of large numbers of people.

From 2008–2011, he served as the chair of the Department of Food and Nutrition Policy at the Friedman School. Prior to joining Tufts, Dan spent twenty years in leadership positions with international NGOs and research institutes. He was deputy regional director for CARE International in Eastern and Central Africa, Rockefeller Post-Doctoral Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, and worked for the Mennonite Central Committee for ten years in Tanzania and Uganda.

He holds a B.Sc. from Wilmington College, a master’s degree from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

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