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New research findings suggest that families in the Horn of Africa need strengthened systems to enhance resilience to climate shocks

Initial findings from an ongoing study by the Jameel Observatory and Save the Children suggest that early warnings can fail to reach households, with families struggling to cope in the face of consecutive droughts.

The Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action and Save the Children have launched a new research initiative to help make anticipatory action more effective at mitigating the impact of predictable shocks and reduce food crises, and to help save lives.

Climate change, conflict and other challenges, including famine and drought, threaten millions of people with hunger and insecurity. Humanitarian actors are required to address immediate needs and risks, while development and climate actors look to longer term climate adaptation and resilience building. Innovative solutions, including early warning systems and anticipatory action, that link to wider systems strengthening are needed to help stave off the worst effects for the most vulnerable people.

As these threats grow, populations are faced with multiple, prolonged and protracted crises with little time to recover or to plan ahead. How then do we best undertake anticipatory action to allow us to mitigate the impacts of these shocks?

To answer this question, the Jameel Observatory and Save the Children commissioned research in parts of Kenya and Somaliland with support from the Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation to explore the role that anticipatory action can play in such contexts by capturing the voices of families living through the 2021-2023 drought.

Preliminary findings from the research show that actions taken by households and communities during the drought were extensions of their usual livelihood strategies, such as migrating to search for pasture and water. They also engaged in negative strategies to help cope – most of which have detrimental impacts on children - such as pulling children from school. It was also found that early warning messages often do not reach households and when they do, they are not always understood or trusted; and that anticipatory action may have greater value after the first failed season, rather than a second or subsequent failed season.

This has demonstrated a need to build deep community awareness of, and buy-in for, the need and value of anticipatory action.   

Laura Swift, senior food security and livelihoods technical advisor at Save the Children, said: “We need to strengthen the ‘usual’ and essential systems and services – such as water, grazing, health, and education - during non-shock periods so they are able to flex ahead of crises; and we must recognize that anticipatory action will not likely be sufficient during a protracted and deep crisis, and will need to be complemented with emergency interventions.”

Dr Guyo Malicha Roba, head of the Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action, said: “As food insecurity increases as a result of climate shocks and other challenges, we must enhance existing systems through early warning systems, anticipatory action and other measures in order to shield the most vulnerable populations in times of crisis.”

This research is part of a wider collaboration between the Jameel Observatory, Save the Children and partners to understand and strengthen the roles and impact of anticipatory action in food crises. The second phase of the research will see the publication of two separate reports, one for Kenya and one for Somalia, in addition to a learning brief for policymakers and practitioners. The full report is available on the Jameel Observatory’s website: Looking ahead in a crisis – roles for anticipatory action in protracted droughts | Jameel Observatory


About Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action

The Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action was launched in 2021 as a research partnership between Community Jameel, the University of Edinburgh, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), CGIAR, J-PAL and Save the Children. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, it combines the local knowledge and concerns of communities facing on-the-ground threats of hunger with innovations in data science and humanitarian action; and devises solutions that can predict, prepare for and overcome climate-related food security and malnutrition challenges in dryland areas.

About Save the Children:

Save the Children exists to create lasting change for and with children. In more than 100 countries including the UK, we make sure children stay safe, healthy and learning, and change the future for good. We find new ways to reach children, no matter where they’re growing up. For a century, we’ve stood up for children’s rights and made sure their voices are heard.

For more information visit www.savethechildren.org.uk