Fighting famine with mobile data

Steve Schwartz at Tableau: “For most people, asking about the price of a bag of rice is inconsequential. For Moustapha Toure, it is a question of life and death for thousands.

A Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Officer with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Moustapha and his team are currently collecting price data and assessing food security in a corner of the country wracked by the effects of the Boko Haram insurgency.

When the conflict broke out in 2009, the threat of violence made it difficult for humanitarian workers like Moustapha to access the communities they serve.

“The security situation made it impossible for the team to go to local markets, talk to vendors, or even chat with people in their homes—all the things they usually do to gather data on local food prices,” said the WFP Nigeria Country Director, Ronald Sibanda.

To overcome this challenge, WFP, in collaboration with the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), turned to an innovative new approach for collecting data via mobile phones, known as mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM). Using mVAM, WFP and its partners can remotely collect food security and price data. Not only does this approach provide a way to hear from people in inaccessible areas, but it also makes near real-time reporting to local decision-makers possible. That means WFP staff like Moustapha are able to make reliable, data-informed decisions that may impact the lives of more than one million people across the affected Nigerian states.

A Vital Lifeline for a Looming Famine

The mVAM team could be in demand now more than ever. Along with Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan, Nigeria is one of the four countries at risk of famine. Stephen O’Brien, the United Nation’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, recently described this global food security emergency as the most serious humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

For seven years, the Boko Haram conflict has affected communities in north-eastern Nigeria, leaving some 5.1 million people food insecure in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states and forcing an estimated 1.9 million people to leave behind their homes, land, and livelihoods.

Without this remotely-collected information, little would be known about these areas and how the conflict is affecting food security. However, this data—collected on a regular basis—actually presents a unique opportunity. In the new system, WFP’s VAM team can take a leap forward from traditional PDF reports which take at least a few weeks, to produce a near real-time look at the situation on the ground…(More)”.