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An information system in exile - Is it working?

An Evaluation of the Food Security Assessment Unit, Nairobi

The Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) is an information unit based in Nairobi, funded mainly by the EC and managed by the WFP Somalia Unit. It was established in 1994 and is currently coming to the end of its second phase of funding (Jan 1999). The role of the FSAU is to provide food security related information on population groups within Somalia for the benefit of donors and other agencies working there. It has three main partner projects which provide data and support information collection and analysis in the unit. ACF support the collection of clinic based nutritional data, SCF have introduced the Household Food Economy (HFE) methodology into the FSAU and have conducted baseline studies on numerous food economy groups in Somalia and FEWS provide and analyse rainfall, Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and price data. The FSAU team are involved in four crop assessments (the area of crop planted and crop production) for the two main crop seasons each year.
The FSAU is effectively an information system in exile. The expatriate specialists (agronomist, nutritionist, food economy specialist and Geographic Information System officer) who man the Nairobi office are complemented by a highly qualified group of Somali field monitors. Since the withdrawal of UNISOM troops in 1994 the expatriate presence in Somalia has gradually dwindled in response to a succession of security incidents. Programme implementation and information collection is therefore dependent upon Somalis.

The EC requested an evaluation of the FSAU before approving funding for a phase 3. This evaluation has just been completed and its main findings were as follows.
The introduction of the SCF HFE assessment methodology into the overall information system has allowed integration of all data sets and provided a coherent framework for providing early warning and identifying vulnerable groups. Previously, the data were difficult to interpret and failed to account for the diverse means of subsistence practised by most Somalis. Credible food needs assessments are now provided every three months. However, there are still many weaknesses in the system. For example,

Although easy to pay lipservice to the concept, the review also determined that there needed to be more capacity building, for example including local NGOs and government officials in all assessment training workshops currently operated by the FSAU. Appointment of a Somali assistant-co-ordinator would also ensure the feasibility of transferring the system to a Somali administration in the event of conflict resolution and stable government. The reviewers concluded that:

The full review will be available from the Oxford Policy Management Group by the end of the year.

For more information contact: Jeremy Shoham, Co-editor, Field Exchange E-mail: jshoham@easynet.co.uk

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Reference this page

An information system in exile - Is it working?. Field Exchange 5, October 1998. p21. www.ennonline.net/fex/5/working