Emergency preparedness saves lives, reduces the impact of crises on vulnerable people's livelihoods and is much more cost-effective than repeated humanitarian action. This story shows how WFP's early warning analysis led to early action in the Sahel.

Food crises often develop over a long period of time and are typically caused by conflict, drought or other natural hazards, as well as high food prices and low incomes, which prevent people from being able to produce or purchase sufficient food. WFP’s early warning systems routinely monitor and forecast risk factors to provide governments and humanitarian actors with the opportunity to take early action to prevent or mitigate a critical situation from escalating into an emergency.

The implementation of emergency preparedness activities helps to save lives and reduces the impact of crises on poor people’s livelihoods. Evidence demonstrates that investment in early response, community resilience and preparedness is significantly more cost-effective than repeated humanitarian action. For example, a 2018 USAID study on Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia indicates that early response to drought, combined with safety net transfers and resilience-building activities, could over a 15-year period save US$4.3 billion, or an average of US$287 million per year.

In the Sahel, interdependent drivers such as extreme poverty, climate change, armed conflict and subsequent displacement and migration, caused chronic and acute vulnerabilities to reach staggering levels. Recurrent food crises are one of the principal impediments to economic development in the region. The latest drought (2011-2012) left more than 18 million people facing hunger and 1 million children at risk of dying from malnutrition. Historical trends show that the region faces drought approximately every 3 years, and a major drought every 5 to 10 years.

Political instability, conflict and insecurity – including extremism – in some Sahel countries, further disrupt people's usual ways of coping with shocks; hinder access and delivery of assistance; weaken food and trade flows; and cause punctual displacement. In addition, climate change across the region either partly fuels, or gravely compounds, all of the above.

WFP works with governments in the Sahel and in the West and Central Africa region to implement operations that take into account humanitarian aid, development and peace-building. Investments in resilience by WFP and partners help to reduce lean-season needs; cause less people to migrate; and allow the livelihoods of the poorest to diversify. WFP's aim is to create 1 million jobs across the region, restore 5 million hectares of degraded land, generate an extra 2 million tonnes of farm produce, and reduce unsafe migration in at least 70 percent of the communities within 6 years.

Given the fragile environment of the Sahel, where shocks will continue to occur, early warning analysis enables WFP to be as rapid, effective and efficient as possible in providing life-saving emergency food assistance to the people most in need.

“The lessons learned from the 2011/2012 Sahel drought all echo the same: it takes 4-6 months on average to prepare for an emergency and its response – so ensuring early warning and information systems are early enough, collect the right indicators, and have government and donor buy-in from the start, is critical. In a shock year, the inability to clearly define the scale of vulnerability, early enough, and with consensus, would be the overwhelming preparedness challenge” – Abdou Dieng, WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa


WFP enhanced its early warning systems through a Corporate Alert System, which enables the organisation to achieve a greater cross-functional understanding of emerging risks that are external to the organisation, and which could have an impact on its current operations or would necessitate a new response. Through its four phases, the tool supports WFP to implement timely and adequate preparedness and response activities.

At each phase, the Corporate Alert System brings together Regional Bureaux,
Country Offices and WFP’s various functional areas – early warning, food security, risk management, security and nutrition – to assess evolving contextual risks. This enables WFP to achieve a common understanding of emerging risks and crises, raise awareness at corporate level on the most concerning ones, and provides an opportunity to jointly define appropriate early actions to mitigate those risks.


In the Sahel, the early warning analysis ensured that WFP was able to identify and analyse risk factors that could worsen an already fragile situation in the six countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal). Regional Bureaux, Country Offices and HQ divisions were alerted on contextual risks that could potentially affect food and nutrition levels in the region as early as July 2017, and were regularly provided with updates on the evolution of the situation.

The Corporate Alert System facilitated the collaboration between the Regional Bureau in Dakar, respective Country Offices and WFP’s functional areas, and allowed the organisation to identify gaps in preparedness and jointly decide on early action measures to enable Country Offices to cope with the deteriorating situation. The process supported WFP to more effectively scale up its response and provide assistance to the people most in need.



The Corporate Alert System brought together expertise from WFP's different teams and offices to discuss aggravating factors that had already exacerbated the food security and nutrition situation in the region for specific livelihood groups (e.g. pastoralists) before the 2018 lean season (June-September) and factors that were likely to worsen the vulnerabilities of all livelihood groups during the lean season.
Three risk factors were forecasted to have a significant impact on the population.

The risk of intensifying conflict in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and macroeconomic difficulties in Chad were featured in WFP's monthly Early Warning Watch List since July 2017, which indicated that they were likely to materialise in the next six months.

The possibility of rainfall anomalies in 2017 leading to an early and extended lean season in 2018, was added to the Early Warning Watch List issued in September 2017. The level of seriousness of each risk was defined by analysing its impact and likelihood to occur. Risks were closely monitored by the Regional Bureau in Dakar, Country Offices and HQ divisions to ensure WFP was abreast of the situation. For example, in December 2017, early warning analysis indicated that due to the rainfall anomalies in 2017, an early and extended lean season in 2018 was highly likely to occur and have a significant impact on the population, and was therefore classified as a risk of high concern.


The possibility for the three risks to occur simultaneously and the estimated level of preparedness in affected countries triggered WFP to conduct a joint in-depth analysis on the potential impact that the risks may have on populations in the region. Support was provided to the Regional Bureau in Dakar on the development of a comprehensive shock response plan, which places governments at the center of all planning, to respond immediately to threats and ensure better preparation for future large-scale droughts.

Impact of risks on food security starting June 2018

The impact of the risks on food and nutrition security in the lean season (June– September 2018) is alarming. The March 2018 Cadre Harmonise’ food security analysis indicates that 5.8 million people will require food assistance during the lean season in pastoral areas across the region. This means that the region will have 50% more food insecure people than the previous year at the same time.

The analysis confirms that the Sahel will face the worst lean season in four years and there will be a sharp increase in the number of people that will need urgent food and nutrition assistance, if no action is taken. Internal WFP assessments indicate that nearly 7 million people may face acute hunger in the coming months, if the response is inadequate. Women and children will be the hardest hit and across the six countries, with over 1.6 million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.


Based on the joint analysis conducted in the previous phase, WFP defined specific readiness actions to complement existing preparedness plans. The implementation of early actions saves lives, protects livelihoods from shocks, and protects longer term development gains by increasing the resilience of local communities.

To enable early actions to quickly and efficiently mitigate disaster impacts at country level, WFP readily makes funds available to Country Offices through a dedicated immediate response account for preparedness and emergency. This mechanism enabled Country Offices to conduct preparedness activities in a timely manner such as: the development of a resource mobilisation strategy; recruitment of additional staff; and the development of access strategies to reach beneficiaries in areas affected by conflict.


WFP is in a race against time to buy food and nutrition supplies and move them into remote locations where they will be needed before rains start and roads become impassable. The Corporate Alert System helped to catalyse resources and supports WFP's plan to assist 3.5 million people between June and September this year in the six Sahelian countries.

In Burkina Faso, WFP plans to assist 726,000 people through a mixture of food and cash-based transfers starting in June. So far, WFP has prepositioned 2,670 mt of food in the Sahel and eastern regions out of 12,000 mt required by 30 June.

In Chad, distribution of WFP food assistance for the lean season began in the second week of May in Wadi Fira, for a planned 186,400 people with half-rations due to insufficient funding. From June onwards, WFP plans to expand to other locations (Batha, Barh El Gazal, Kanem, Lac, Guéra and Ouaddai) to reach a total of 700,000 people.

In Mali, WFP launched assistance in March – with a focus on agro-pastoral families (155,000 people) in conflict-affected places, where there are high rates of malnutrition. During the lean season, WFP plans to carry out distributions for 504,000 people through food (25%) and cash-based transfers (75%).

In Mauritania, WFP plans to support 427,000 people through food distributions and cash-based assistance. The first food shipment arrived in the country in April and cash assistance also started at the end of April.

In Niger, distributions began in June. WFP plans to assist 922,700 people with food and cash-based transfers. Malnutrition treatment activities will be carried out for children 6-23 months suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, pregnant and lactating women and caretakers. Some 12,300 mt of food has been prepositioned in the Global Commodity Management Facility and an additional 13,700 mt will be delivered there soon.

In Senegal, WFP plans to provide assistance to nearly 140,000 people through food and cash-based transfers, which started in the first week of June.


WFP urgently requires US$99 million to meet the needs of 3.5 million people.
Without it, WFP and partners will be forced to prioritise some families and reduce rations, leaving behind a significant portion of vulnerable people.

Action is needed now to save lives and avert a catastrophe in the Sahel. Families have reported reducing the number of daily meals and children are too weak to attend school. Timely support from all partners and donors can help mitigate the current and forseen deterioration of the situation in the Sahel. This is also key to break the vicious circle of chronic hunger and malnutrition affecting millions of vulnerable people in this region.


For further information, please contact:

Sheila Grudem – WFP Deputy Director of Emergencies (sheila.grudem@wfp.org)

Anuj Anand – Communication Officer (anuj.anand@wfp.org)

Early Warning Unit (hq.aew.user.list@wfp.org)

Source: reliefweb