CHAPTER 6.

THE 1991/92 DROUGHT: WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

o Much can be learned by examining why things went the way they did.

Looking back at the 1991/92 drought in Southern Africa, what actually happened is fairly clear. Much can be learned by examining why things went the way they did. Another source of learning, however, is to hypothesize about what might have been the situation, had a credible, reliable and accurate ENSO forecast been widely available in the region in early 1991. Analyzing what might have been can provide decision-makers, donors, forecasters, and observers with an idea of the full range of flexibility allowed by advancements in such forecasting technology.

In the inter-war period, E.H. Carr (1939) called attention to the need to distinguish between "what is" and "what ought to be."

The antithesis of utopia and reality -- a balance always swinging towards and away from equilibrium and never completely attaining it -- is a fundamental antithesis revealing itself in many forms of thought. Two methods of approach -- the inclination to ignore what was and what is in contemplations of what should be, and the inclination to deduce what should be from what was and what is -- determine opposite attitudes toward every political problem (p. 11).

This distinction between utopia (what ought to be) and reality (what is) can be helpful in understanding the real as opposed to the theoretical societal value of ENSO information for food security in Southern Africa.

In the first section of this chapter, we identify a set of strategies that, in theory, could have been adopted in the SADC region had an accurate ENSO forecast been widely available in March 1991. Most of these strategies have been suggested by individuals in the SADC region who were either interviewed in-person or responded to an open-ended mail questionnaire. We assume a hypothetically perfect forecast and efficient distribution of the information.

The second section discusses the social, economic, and political constraints which might have prevented these strategies from being adopted, even with the earlier ENSO forecast. This approach enables us to differentiate between the theoretical value of a reliable ENSO forecast and its actual value for the SADC region. One method of assessing "what might have been" is to look at costs that could have been saved with an earlier ENSO forecast. This is perhaps the most easily understood information, since the result can be quantitative. However, the qualitative aspects of such valuations are equally as important, and are also discussed.

6.1. Potential Benefits of an Earlier ENSO Forecast

The economic costs of drought include the outlays made by individual governments on food imports, the cost of shipping such imports, the loss in export revenues from drought-affected products, and the sinking of broader economic measures such as GDP, income, and the budget deficit. What follows is a description and breakdown of identifiable costs, and a discussion about which of these costs might have been reduced with earlier drought forecasting abilities.

Reduced Maize Import Needs

o Officials involved in the 1991/92 Southern African drought generally believe that earlier forecasting and response could reduce costs significantly through earlier food acquisition efforts.

o Even if Zimbabwe's GMB had not taken immediate action based on a March 1991 ENSO forecast, it would have been aware of a possible problem. This may have enabled the GMB to react more quickly to news that August maize stocks were unlikely to last through the 1992 harvest. It may have also been able to reduce exports, thereby reducing future expenditures for imports.

Among the responses from an open-ended survey of officials involved in the 1991/92 drought was the common feeling that earlier forecasting and response could reduce costs significantly through earlier food acquisition efforts. As a consultant in Zambia noted, "Early orders of cereal stocks would make the base cost lower, and early transportation to district depots would save money" (by stocking such areas during the dry season, before roads become impassable and airlifting is the only option). A senior political official in Zimbabwe felt that with a credible, reliable ENSO forecast in hand by March 1991, the GOZ could have halted maize exports much earlier, and started importing to compensate for the shortfall earlier, which would have reduced dependence on more expensive road transport.

The marketing year in Zimbabwe runs from April to March. Export contracts are usually made in the early part of the marketing year as more accurate crop estimates are made and the harvest begins. With an ENSO forecast as early as March 1991, the GMB would have become aware that the 1991/92 season was likely to experience below normal precipitation and thus the maize harvest would be lower than normal. They could have either reduced the level of its exports or cancelled them altogether.

If Zimbabwe had stopped exporting maize by April of 1991, it would have had 178,000 tonnes of white maize and 52,000 more tonnes of yellow maize in reserve. The value of this maize, at the prices that the GOZ paid during the drought in 1992 (including import costs), would have been about US$ 41 million (Table 6.1).

Even if the GMB had not taken immediate action based on the March 1991 ENSO forecast, it would have been aware of a possible problem and been able to react more quickly to news that August maize stocks were unlikely to last through the 1992 harvest, and could still have reduced exports, reducing future expenditures on imports.

 

US$/tonne

Total Tonne
Outflows
Inflows
Potential
     
(US$)
(US$)
Cost Savings (US$)

ZIMBABWE:

         
Imports Needed to Cover 91/91 Export

243.40

230,000
55,982,000
   
           

White Maize Exports

85.70

178,000
 
15,254,600
 

White Maize Export Costs*

3.40

178,000
605,200
   

Yellow Maize Exports

61.60

52,000
 
3,203,200
 

Yellow Maize Export Costs*

3.20

52,000
166,400
   

Storage Costs**

   
2,768,670
   
           

Subtotal

   
59,522,270
18,457,800
41,064,470
           

ZIMBABWE & ZAMBIA:

         
April '92 Use of Beira/Maputo Ports

28.00

150,000
   
4,200,000

Jan. '92 Start of Importing via Beira

36.00

300,000
   
10,800,000

Jan. '92 Start of Importing via Maputo

33.00

120,000
   
3,960,000
           

* costs: transport and other
** assumed to be 15 percent of stock;s value
1992 exchange rate used: US$.20 = Z$1

Table 6.1. Potential Cost Savings in Zimbabwe with an Earlier ENSO Forecast (1992 US$).

Transport of Grain

o There are ways to expedite the shipment of food aid, but they are often costly.

o A greater window for response would have provided more time to organize the flow of drought-related goods.

o Earlier importation to make up for the grain shortfall could have been less costly, because there would have been less reliance on more expensive road transport.

Between April 1992 and April 1993, 11.6 million tonnes of drought-related commodities worth nearly US$4 billion, were imported into Southern Africa (Collins, 1993). The cost of shipping and transporting these goods through regional ports to the main distribution centers reached US$440 million (SADC/FSTAU, 1993). A number of ports, railway, and road corridors were used as points of transport, depending on their condition, handling capacity, and proximity to final destinations. South African ports handled 8.6 million tonnes of drought-related commodities in 13 months -- or 50% of all SADC imports. Durban and Port Elizabeth were utilized extensively.

Several ports, such as Beira and Maputo, both in Mozambique, were the least costly for the transfer of goods to Zimbabwe and Zambia (Figure 6.1). These two ports handled shipments of two million tonnes of drought-related goods to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia between April 1992 and April 1993 (MSI, 1994). However, they were underutilized because of capacity limitations. Had the delivery effort started sooner, which could have happened with an earlier, reliable and accurate ENSO warning and response, these ports may have been used to advantage earlier in 1992. For example, if Beira and Maputo had been used for several grain shipments to Zimbabwe in April 1992, instead of the more expensive southern corridors, roughly US$4.5 million could have been saved. Per tonne of grain going to Harare, the difference in cost between rail transport from Beira (US$37.73/tonne) or Durban (US$71.31/tonne via Beitbridge) was US$33.58 (SADC/FSTAU, 1993).

A similar situation existed for Zambia, where the difference in cost per tonne of grain destined for Lusaka was US$26.74 between Maputo (US$117.03/tonne) and Durban (US$143.77/tonne via Mafeking) ports. Dar es Salaam was the least expensive port from which to ship to Lusaka, at US$112.86/tonne (SADC/FSTAU, 1993). A longer time-frame for importing food aid and commercial grain purchases would have allowed a more dispersed flow of goods, and hence a steadier, more efficient use of all ports and distribution facilities. The actual chronological order of grain shipments (maize, wheat, sorghum) to Zimbabwe and Zambia is displayed in Table 6.2.

 
Zimbabwe
Zambia
Month
Commercial
Aid
Total
Commercial
Aid
Total
April 1992
124,801
 
124,801
 
29,480
29,480
May
189,771
15,396
205,167
39,765
 
39,765
June
225,623
3,000
228,623
18,492
35,831
54,323
July
103,297
33,944
137,241
33,343
125,264
158,607
August
176,029
17,917
193,946
 
86,597
86,597
September
177,134
119,618
296,752
78,538
25,092
103,630
October
116,422
199,798
316,220
48,627
49,087
97,714
November
153,498
268,370
421,868
16,000
33,491
49,491
December
26,230
75,042
101,272
 
80,304
80,304
January 1993
37,996
105,255
143,251
 
84,327
84,327
February
46,200
20,871
67,071
 
38,500
38,500
March
50,073
23,864
73,937
 
70,310
70,310
April
30,000
24,300
54,300
 
69,500
69,500
Total
1,457,074
907,375
2,364,449
234,765
727,783
962,548
% of Total
62%
38%
--
24%
76%
--

Table 6.2 Chronology of grain shipments to Zimbabwe and Zambia (From SADC/FSTAU, 1993).

Because most of the national drought disaster declarations and appeals for emergency food aid were made only in February and March of 1992, and the regional appeal in June of that year, the normal five to six month lead time needed to organize, mobilize, ship, unload, and deliver donor-supplied food to inland target areas explains the heavy level of aid importing in September, October, and November of 1992. Commercial shipments, from contract to receipt, can take as little as two or three months, as was the case when Zimbabwe ordered Argentinean white maize in January 1992, and received it in March. Commercial imports represent the bulk of Zimbabwe's imports during April, May, and June. These shipments were necessary to cover the time period until aid shipments were arranged because even with SADC's early warning, most national governments and international donors were surprised by the drought's severity (MSI, 1993). There are ways to expedite food aid, but they are often costly (e.g., the use of air transport or helicopters). Grain swapping has also become a way to expedite such shipments. This involves a diversion of grain shipments from non-emergency areas to those at risk. Assuming that an ENSO forecast had been available by March 1991, and that immediate action had been taken by national governments and SADC, food shipments could have been organized in time to start arriving at port in January 1992.

By importing food via Beira and Maputo starting in January 1992, and continuing at a steady rate from then on, transport costs to Zimbabwe and Zambia could have been cut by close to US$20 million (Table 6.1). This assumes that the ports could have handled their full capacity without major problems, and that the use of the Limpopo Corridor would not have been restricted by RENAMO activities. The practical capacity of the Limpopo Corridor was 55,000 tonnes per month (SADC/FSTAU, 1993). Had food shipments begun along this route in January, instead of April, a conservative estimate of 150,000 tonnes could have used this cost-effective route to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Beira Port Beira-Machipanda rail line had practical capacity of 90,000 tonnes per month. With a January 1992 start time, we assumed that 300,000 tonnes of extra food could have been shipped to Zimbabwe and Zambia when estimating potential cost-savings.

A greater window for response would have provided more time to organize the flow of drought-related goods. In Southern Africa, the transport system is export-oriented, a factor which led to delays because of the poor placement and slow turn-around of rail wagons and trucks. The bureaucratic formalities involved in transporting enormous quantities across international borders, through customs on both sides, also created delays. It is difficult to quantify the effects of such slow downs, but they affected the quality of the response effort, especially through loss of food to spoilage, and the clogging-up of already over-burdened transport routes and storage facilities.

Generally speaking, it has been noted that,

The logistical problems encountered to date were largely anticipated from the onset of the drought and as such, were either surmounted or prevented from increasing the financial or social costs that might have otherwise been incurred (UN, 1992, p. 5).

Initial concerns were especially focused on the availability and capacity of rail wagons and trucks. This determined how much food could be shipped to central storage depots, and eventually on to more remote areas before the beginning of the rainy season (UN, 1992).

Earlier importation to make up for the grain shortfall could have been less costly, because there would have been less reliance on road transport. Also, there would have been enough time to coordinate rail transport to as many areas as possible, and by spreading out the shipments, the urgency of supplemental road transport would not have been as acute.

Livestock Off-take

During the drought, cattle throughout much of Zimbabwe suffered from poor grazing conditions and lack of water. An estimated 423,000 cattle out of 4.4 million died, and the normal off-take rate doubled (Thompson, 1993). Not being able to sustain herds through the dry time, many farmers took their livestock to market early. Greater supply led to falling prices, as indicated by the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP) (April 1992). Many farmers who had animals in good enough condition to sell received only Z$24 per head, compared to the 1991 average price of Z$500 per head. Some farmers, had they known in advance of the drought, would have sold to slaughter houses even earlier, while prices were still high. Assuming prices dropped somewhere between the 1991 high and 1992 low, they could have made several hundred dollars more per head. This practice also would have reduced stress in the foraging areas and rangelands, allowing for a faster recovery of the vegetative cover once the drought ended.

Loss of livestock, particularly oxen, seriously hampered agricultural production, after the drought. In Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe, for example, humans had to pull plows in order to prepare lands for the next crop, because their livestock had died or had become too weak from the drought (Thompson, 1993). For rural farmers who rely on livestock for more than direct income, it is difficult to imagine how this type of problem could have been eased through earlier drought preparation.

Role of Grain Traders

Once grain markets have achieved a state of liberalization, utilizing the market to trade becomes an important way to procure and sell. Drought forecasts produced in time for grain traders to place futures contracts with producers allows for effective planning. RSA traders, for example, could contract for white maize in the U.S., creating the demand for U.S. farmers to plant more white maize in a given season. The grain would be locked in at a market futures price, which would be lower than the inflated prices that develop at the time of the drought.

One RSA grain trader indicated the following possible past and future benefits from definitive drought forecasting: the maize milling industry in South Africa would have spent approximately R485 million less on white maize (US$ 170 million); farmers would have achieved higher incomes because the lack of exports would not have driven down the amount paid to producers; and producers in the relatively marginal areas (e.g., the North West Province) that suffer from poor production in dry years could cultivate the greatest area possible in predicted good years, and plan to sell the production over 18 months (there is a large enough gap between dry and good year yields to make this strategy possible). As one academic expert noted, "Anticipating abundance or shortage of food can reduce volatility and fluctuations -- which has subtle economic and political benefits."

Adjusting ESAP Targets and Requirements to Drought

o The World Bank failed to include the probability of drought within the structural adjustment framework.

Drought and economic reform were extremely ill-timed in the case of Zimbabwe. Some of the ramifications of this timing have already been mentioned, and point to a general condition of failure by the World Bank to include the probability of drought within the structural adjustment framework. Budget reduction meant fewer civil servants and other resources within key crucial parastatals such as the GMB, AFC, NRZ -- at just a time when, if nothing else, more were needed.

One donor representative in Zimbabwe pointed out the ESAP's negative effect on drought response. He noted how existing staff had to perform their normal duties and at the same time try to implement drought relief activities. "The Ministry of Finance denied other ministries approval to hire even temporary personnel, even when external funding (for drought relief and other measures) was given by donors."

Agricultural Practices and Policies

o Reducing vulnerability to drought must involve emphasis on the drought-resistant crops that perform much better than maize in semiarid agroecological zones.

o An ENSO forecast would have allowed for some degree of changes in crop mix, planting times, and other practices for those farmers with flexible operation.

o In cases where very dry conditions can be predicted with reliable accuracy, farmers in marginal growing areas would not waste time or money planting crops that would likely not grow, nor would they spend resources on a second planting that would likely fail.

One area of response that influences the longer-term costs of drought response is that of seed distribution for the next growing season. There was a shortfall in availability of maize, sorghum, millet as well as drought-resistant maize hybrid seeds during the 1991 growing season. With more time to plan, efforts could have been made to acquire necessary seeds in advance of the impending drought season. Reducing vulnerability to drought must involve emphasis on the drought-resistant crops that perform much better than maize in semiarid agroecological zones (SARDC, 1994). Higher-yielding sorghum and millet seed strains exist, but have not been widely introduced among communal farmers.

The inclusion of these native crops and higher-yielding strains within overall food security planning is essential for long-term reduction in the region's vulnerability to drought. Up to now, maize productivity has received much of the attention. The native grains of Africa have great promise for the future because they adapt well to extremes. They can thrive where introduced grains produce inconsistently, and most grow better than other cereals on relatively infertile soils. For thousands of years, native varieties have yielded grain even where land preparation was minimal and management poor (NRC, 1996).

It should be mentioned that drought-resistant crops are not easy to produce. They are more labor-intensive, more susceptible to damage by pests, and more difficult to market and process. They are also more costly. Sorghum and millet will out-produce maize in a drought year, but averaged over five years, maize yields are higher (ORAP, 1992). Their yields are lower but their production more certain.

An ENSO forecast would have allowed for some degree of changes in crop mix, planting times, and other practices for those farmers with flexible operations. Some farmers could have used short-maturing maize hybrids which would have had enough moisture from the early rains to produce a reasonable crop. The result would have been greater grain production, and thus less dependence on costly imports. In cases where very dry years can be predicted with reliable accuracy, farmers in marginal growing areas would not waste time or money planting crops that would likely not grow, nor would they spend resources on a second planting that would likely fail (this happened in some locations during the 1991/92 drought). Production costs per tonne in a poor rainfall year can be four times the costs in good-moisture years, according to one RSA trader (i.e., the savings exceed interest costs).

Budgetary Impacts

By reducing fiscal expenditures on drought-related commodities and food subsidies, both Zimbabwe and Zambia would have suffered less from the drought's budgetary impacts than they actually did. Increased debt burdens affect how much debt a country can support in the longer run, which directly influences the availability of foreign exchange and ability to finance imports. In Zimbabwe, the drought's impacts amounted to 2.7 percent of GDP in 1991/92 and 4.5 percent of GDP in 1992/93 (Benson and Clay, 1994).

In addition, to keep inflation in check from the increased borrowing demanded by the drought, the GOZ kept interest rates high, inhibiting private sector investment -- an activity that was just in a position to expand under the ESAP's liberalized import program. Could an earlier, reliable and credible ENSO forecast have been used to mitigate the drought's macroeconomic effects? Through the vigilant pursuit of earlier preparation, as discussed in the previous section, both Zimbabwe and Zambia could have reduced their drought-response expenses, thus improving their fiscal situations to some degree.

The GOZ's US $320 million subsidization of food imports must still be considered within the context of food security policy and famine prevention, and may have been expended regardless of drought preparedness (simply to improve access to food). A country's overall economic health is an area that will benefit from further use of ENSO forecasting efforts, for all specific economic gains influence a government's budgetary situation.

6.2. Constraints on the Use of ENSO Forecasts

o There are many factors that can inhibit a country's development, many of which exacerbate the impacts of drought when it occurs.

o The effects of larger social policies may, in some cases, dwarf the potential benefits offered through better forecasting.

Response to drought is an important undertaking, but there are many other factors that can inhibit a country's development, some of which exacerbate the impacts of drought when it occurs. In an analysis of the impacts of climate change on Zimbabwe's grazing lands, a recent report notes the following: "Population growth, resource management and land reform are expected to be much more important to the future of these rangelands than climate change." The report goes on to state that economic policies and behavior are predicted to create change in landscape utilization far greater than climate change (Hulme, 1996). The effects of larger social policies may, in some cases, dwarf the potential benefits offered through better forecasting.

Political Incentives

o In the political arena, decision makers are often rewarded for making short-term decisions that conform with the prevailing attitudes of the day.

o The demonstration of an ENSO forecast's accuracy and reliability over time is crucial if forecasts are to be useful for decision makers.

o Some observers have suggested that even with a perfect ENSO forecast in March 1991, Zimbabwe's GMB would have continued its vigorous export program, primarily because that was its standard operating procedure at the time.

One of the greatest barriers to effective use of ENSO forecasting is the incentive structure found in politics, which rewards very short-term decisions that conform with the prevailing attitudes of the day. As one donor official in Zimbabwe commented: "With limited resources, nobody wants to make relevant commitments unless there is an absolute certainty that catastrophe is on its way. Political motivations are plentiful when it comes to drought relief programmes." It is important to note that decision makers can be risk-takers or risk-adverse. In developing countries where jobs are at stake with poor decisions, there is a strong tendency to be risk-adverse.

The demonstration of an ENSO forecast's accuracy and reliability, over time, is crucial. As another official pointed out, "With a proven track record, farmers will begin to believe the forecasts are good indicators of almost certain losses, and will change their behavior."

Some observers suggested that, even with a perfect forecast in March 1991, the GMB would have continued its vigorous export program, primarily because that was the standard operating procedure at the time. Zimbabwe prides itself on its reputation as a net exporter of maize, and information suggesting that Zimbabwe act contrary to its standard procedure would not have been as easily or quickly integrated into decision making.

In Zambia, once it became clear that the rains had failed, the new Chiluba government responded quickly by requesting assistance from donors. An expert familiar with Zambia commented: "I imagine that had an ENSO forecast been available as early as March 1991, that little would have changed in terms of response. The country was going through the run-up to an election in which the then-President Kenneth Kaunda had political priorities that would have made planning for a drought difficult."

Other institutional constraints to drought response include inadequate drought management capabilities and/or authority, incomplete understanding of drought problems and mitigation, and shortage of needed parts, equipment, and machinery (Wilhite and Glantz, 1985).

Forecast Availability and Awareness

o Bureaucrats and extension officers must be trained on how to interpret ENSO forecasts, and communicate the risks of drought to local farmers.

The ability of farmers as well as government bureaucrats to respond to forecast information depends on whether they receive information, whether they believe it to be reliable (which may depend on the source), and also on the availability of alternatives. In 1991/92, the primary means for farmers to receive ENSO information would have been through district extension offices. Extension officers would have had to receive the ENSO forecast from the Ministry of Agriculture and to have been trained in how to use such forecasts in decision making.

The Drought Monitoring Centre sent ENSO information to the Ministries of Agriculture in the SADC region in early 1991. Most apparently ignored the information (SARDC, 1994). If this is true, it was probably because they were not yet familiar with the linkages between ENSO and drought in Southern Africa. They may also have been preoccupied with "more pressing" economic and political matters. After all, drought is a "creeping phenomenon" and timely rains could have "saved the day" with regard to food security. Thus it appears that the mere availability of a seasonal forecast, at least initially, of changes in ocean temperatures thousands of miles away, is not sufficient.

Bureaucrats and extension officers must be trained on how to interpret ENSO forecasts, and communicate the risks of drought to local farmers. Today, following the occurrence of the 1991/92 drought and the 1991/92 ENSO event, there is much greater awareness of the linkage between ENSO and regional drought as well as the economic impacts of drought on Southern African economies. Thus, it is likely these individuals would be receptive to such training opportunities.

Aid-dependent Countries

The food production systems in some of these countries are in such dire straights even without the added burden of drought, because of such factors as civil war, land mines, political and economic repression, or lack of economic development. Mozambique was in such a situation when the drought hit, having struggled through a decade-long war, vacillations between Marxist and capitalist policies, and a deteriorating economy since it achieved independence in 1975. To avert complete collapse, the government has relied on external finance and debt restructuring for years -- funds which provide 80 percent of the country's GNP.

Even before the drought, up to 85 percent of the country's food needs had to be imported, mostly through aid arrangements. Earlier drought forecasting couldn't have had much, if any, impact. As one donor official working in Mozambique at the time of the drought noted: "Meeting the pre-drought needs of Mozambique seemed impossible enough at the time without the thought of having to double our efforts in the year ahead. With perfect fore-knowledge, I should probably have quietly shot myself."

Agricultural Development and Policy

o A March forecast might have enabled governments to help farmers obtain the necessary inputs to plant crops that are more drought-resistant. However, a government's own resource constraints could have precluded such an effort.

As noted earlier, ENSO information must be accompanied by opportunities for farmers to obtain inputs for crops other than maize. Many communal farmers must rely on carryover seed and have limited resources to purchase new seed. Since planting does not begin in Southern Africa until October, a March forecast might have provided a window of opportunity for governments to help farmers obtain necessary inputs to plant crops that are more drought-resistant. However, a government's own resource constraints could have precluded such an effort.

After the 1991/92 drought, the GOZ revisited its maize reserve policy and decided upon a new strategic reserve level of 936,000 tonnes. The GMB, the principal party responsible for such maize storage, felt this to be too much excess, because of the economic burden that storage costs would place on its entire operation (GMB, 1994). Conflicting ideas within the government of how to effectively manage grain storage, proactive versus reactive drought response strategies, and agricultural sector objectives create the kinds of questionable practices that had developed in Zimbabwe prior to the 1991/92 drought.

Donor Practices

o Donors often adopt a "wait and see" attitude when it comes to drought. This relates to the planning and supply cycles that donors use, which typically are tied to the fiscal year.

All countries that receive aid in connection with drought are affected by the fact that foreign aid assistance efforts are often dictated by their own bureaucratic inertia. This tendency could interfere with potential benefits coming from earlier forecasts. One aid director stated: "I am sure the donors would have adopted much the same 'wait and see' attitude, even if we had been able to forecast needs more accurately at an earlier date." This attitude relates to the planning and supply cycles that donors use, which typically are tied to the fiscal year. As was mentioned: "Most [aid organizations] do not have the administrative capability to commit resources very far ahead." A vision that supersedes a "just-in-time" response would have to accompany earlier ENSO forecasting to maximize its effectiveness.

Most relief organizations respond to requests for assistance from national governments. That is, they must wait until the national government acknowledges the problem before understanding relief activities. Prior to such a declaration, relief actions are limited. For example, UNICEF has some discretionary funds that can be reprogrammed prior to a drought declaration, but it is only after a request for assistance has come from the government that large amounts of resources can be mobilized. Given this situation, even if appeals for aid had been made earlier, it is unlikely donors would have agreed to mobilize food supplies given their tendency to view famine as an event rather than a process. Transport bottlenecks would still have been a problem.

Targets of Early Warning

o Early warning information in the SADC region is targeted towards government officials and donor organizations capable of making arrangements for covering production shortfalls.

o Many officials believe the greatest benefits of an earlier ENSO forecast will occur when that information reaches farmers who can then make different planting decisions. There seems to be a mismatch between where the benefits of an earlier forecast are believed to be realized and where that information would most likely have gone.

Several respondents noted that an ENSO forecast in March 1991 could have enabled farmers to make different planting decisions. This assumes that farmers are the target for early warning information. In reality, early warning information in the SADC region is targeted towards government officials and donor organizations capable of making arrangements for covering production shortfalls. This suggests a mismatch between where benefits of an earlier ENSO forecast are believed to be realized and where that information would most likely have gone. And, the target of ENSO information by those who produced it in the early 1990s was other meteorological services and not the end users.

6.3. Summary

o Savings estimates assume decision makers would have believed an earlier ENSO forecast and would have known how to use it. In 1991, this would have been unlikely.

o In reality, an earlier forecast in 1991 would not have made a great deal of difference because potential users and uses of an ENSO forecast had not been identified in advance of the drought situation.

In general, decision makers' perceptions of drought and famine greatly affect how seriously it is dealt with. "As long as drought continues to be regarded as unusual, unexpected, and unknown in its impact, economic planners will ignore it" (IDC, 1993:2). However, drought is not uncertain (as current ENSO forecasting abilities prove). Rather, it is a known hazard, where uncertainty can be turned into measured risk. But at this point in time, only Botswana and South Africa have budgetary provisions for drought expenditures (IDC, 1993).

With reference to the 1991/92 drought in Southern Africa, all of the savings estimates made above assume decision makers would have believed an earlier forecast and would have known how to use it. In 1991, this would have been unlikely; ENSO was an unfamiliar topic, as was its connection to regional drought. Many of those who knew of ENSO forecasts did not consider them to be credible, so the information that was available often sat on peoples' desks. More pressing political and economic concerns probably still would have been given priority. In reality, an earlier forecast in 1991 would not have made a great deal of difference because potential users and uses of and ENSO forecast had not been identified in advance of the drought's situation.


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