On October 13, during the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened a high-level panel discussion highlighting the Famine Action Mechanism, a new global mechanism dedicated to preventing future famines.
According to Guterres, while efforts to reduce overall poverty are working, the risk of famine continues to threaten more people.
“We are witnessing growth in the world. We are witnessing even a reduction in absolute poverty, but hunger has been on the rise in recent times,” Guterres said. “We need to have a systematic capacity to detect where famine can occur, to prevent it, and then to be able to create conditions of resilience in societies – to make sure that we are able not only to respond to crisis, but to make sure that those crises will not occur.”
“What’s interesting about FAM is that you bring together three things,” Guterres said. “You bring together data – analysis and capacity to detect situations, financing, and implementation. So, the three things, instead of being separated, are put together in a collective response that prevents, reacts, and creates resilience for the future.”
Launched by the UN, World Bank and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the UN General Assembly meetings in New York in September, the FAM is a global partnership that seeks to address the risks of famine before they become crises.
“What if we had intervened [earlier]?” asked Kim reflecting on famines in 2017 that affected countries across Africa and the Middle East. Currently, according to Kim, it can take precious time to get the funds needed to get aid on the ground, resulting in losses of resources and lives.
The FAM includes support from Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft Corp, who are working to improve data and analytics aimed at better predicting famine. With this enhanced analysis, the FAM will pre-arrange financing to allow the international community to respond more quickly when the risk of famine is high. It also will help mobilize more multi-year financing to provide predictable, large scale investments that tackle the root causes of famine and build resilience to future shocks.
With the FAM, Kim said, “we will have made pre-existing arrangements so that if [crisis] hits [a certain] level, the World Bank and others will make the money available - and they’ll be ready to go. That certainty makes all the difference in the world.”
Following the introduction from Guterres and Kim, representatives from countries directly impacted by severe food insecurity shared their experiences and ideas for successfully implementing the FAM. Panelists applauded the FAM’s proactive and collaborative approach and called on its partners to support the agenda of famine prevention, preparedness and early action.
“We need to stop treating disasters as though they’re entirely unpredictable,” said Penny Mordaunt, UK Secretary of State for International Development. “Investing early is absolutely critical. We can speed up the response dramatically…and we know that every pound that we invest in preparedness and prepositioning money will save us two pounds in aid later on.”
“We need to take the lessons of FAM – less reactive, more proactive – to the wider system,” Mordaunt added. “We also need to tackle the root causes of hunger and poverty. We need to do more work on livelihoods. We need to do more work to prevent conflict and to build peace. And finally, we need strong political leadership.”
Abdirahman Beileh, Minister of Finance for Somalia, emphasized the importance of collaboration and investment in livelihoods.
“Somalia remains to be the country with the highest probability that drought will lead to famine,” he said. “The famine in Somalia affects people with livestock – we have to develop a window for livestock feeding. At the end of the day, we have to be able to access the resources, so we can invest in areas where livelihoods are very important – agriculture, water resources.”
Aïchatou Kané, Minister of Planning for Niger, welcomed the FAM initiative.
“I believe that the FAM should emphasize a better targeting in terms of coordinating and improving the prediction and analysis of climatic data,” she said. “We need to be able to better prevent those crises. We want to effectively mobilize financing. In order to address the real issues, which are development issues, but also allegiance issues. This is what we should do in order to strengthen what we already do in our countries.”
Mohammad Qayoumi, Acting Minister of Finance for Afghanistan encouraged a more systematic look at famine.
“Our existing normal bureaucratic systems do not respond very well to crisis,” he said. “So, we need a different type of organization structure, specifically for crisis and this [FAM] will be one of them.”
“Mitigation is not enough, eradication should be our aim,” declared Issa Doubragne, Minister of Economy, Planning and Development for Chad. “Food security in Chad and in the Southern Sahelian district is a need. We have to coordinate limited resources and we need better information to continue aid…Not just by distributing food but also by securing livelihoods.”
“We need to secure livelihoods and protect production assets because this is the best way for communities to face up to a famine before outside help [comes in],” he said.
The FAM will be rolled out initially in five countries that exhibit some of the most critical and ongoing food security needs and ultimately will be expanded to provide global coverage. It illustrates the World Bank’s efforts to promote a preventive and preparedness approach to crises and is a concrete application of the Global Crisis Risk Platform (GCRP).