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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2005 Nov 29;360(1463):2169-82.

Weather patterns, food security and humanitarian response in sub-Saharan Africa.

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World Food Programme, Via C. G. Viola 68, Parco dei Medici, 00148 Rome, Italy.


Although considerable achievements in the global reduction of hunger and poverty have been made, progress in Africa so far has been very limited. At present, a third of the African population faces widespread hunger and chronic malnutrition and is exposed to a constant threat of acute food crisis and famine. The most affected are rural households whose livelihood is heavily dependent on traditional rainfed agriculture. Rainfall plays a major role in determining agricultural production and hence the economic and social well being of rural communities. The rainfall pattern in sub-Saharan Africa is influenced by large-scale intra-seasonal and inter-annual climate variability including occasional El Niño events in the tropical Pacific resulting in frequent extreme weather event such as droughts and floods that reduce agricultural outputs resulting in severe food shortages. Households and communities facing acute food shortages are forced to adopt coping strategies to meet the immediate food requirements of their families. These extreme responses may have adverse long-term, impacts on households' ability to have sustainable access to food as well as the environment. The HIV/AIDS crisis has also had adverse impacts on food production activities on the continent. In the absence of safety nets and appropriate financial support mechanisms, humanitarian aid is required to enable households effectively cope with emergencies and manage their limited resources more efficiently. Timely and appropriate humanitarian aid will provide households with opportunities to engage in productive and sustainable livelihood strategies. Investments in poverty reduction efforts would have better impact if complemented with timely and predictable response mechanisms that would ensure the protection of livelihoods during crisis periods whether weather or conflict-related. With an improved understanding of climate variability including El Niño, the implications of weather patterns for the food security and vulnerability of rural communities have become more predictable and can be monitored effectively. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how current advances in the understanding of climate variability, weather patterns and food security could contribute to improved humanitarian decision-making. The paper will propose new approaches for triggering humanitarian responses to weather-induced food crises.

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