In 1985, the world was shocked to learn of famine in Ethiopia. Indeed, the pictures of starving people flashing across television screens was the first indication to many that there was a problem. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was determined not to be caught off-guard again and so established the Famine Early Warning System (now officially known as the Famine Early Warning System Network, or FEWS NET). The goal of FEWS NET is to lower the incidence of drought- or flood-induced famine by providing to decision makers, timely and accurate information regarding potential food-insecure conditions. With early warning, appropriate decisions regarding interventions can be made.
The USGS/EROS Data Center (EDC) works with USAID, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Chemonics International (Chemonics) to provide the data, information, and analyses needed for the FEWS NET project. NASA and NOAA collect and process satellite data that are used to monitor the vegetation condition (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI) and rainfall (RainFall Estimate, or RFE) across the entire African continent. The NDVI and RFE data are but two tools used by FEWS NET to monitor agricultural conditions in Africa.
Chemonics maintains a staff of people in various African countries who are the "eyes and ears" of the FEWS NET project. Their job is to collect and analyze various types of data, take field trips and otherwise keep abreast of conditions in individual countries. The field staff also send their data and analyses to the FEWS NET office in Washington, DC which is also managed by Chemonics. The Chemonics office has the overall responsibility to analyze the data and sound the alert to potential problems. The Chemonics office publishes a monthly bulletin which is distributed to decision makers around the world.
The USGS/EROS Data Center provides technical support services to FEWS NET in the use of remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies. Using its hardware, software and human resources, the EDC develops and provides specialized processing and analyses to the FEWS NET project. Additionally, EDC has developed specialized software for use by the FEWS NET field staff. It also provides long-term data archive and distribution services. The African Data Dissemination Service (ADDS) provides internet access to the data collected for the FEWS NET project.