Improved capacity to predict drought-induced famines has not led to a concomitant improvement in famine prevention. In a comparative study of five African countries, this article argues that the failure to translate more information into timely and appropriate response is explained by a myriad of institutional and – crucially – political obstacles. It is often negotiation over conflicting interests between donors nd governments of recipient countries which determines the timing and level of famine response; the role of information becomes peripheral to much of the decision-making process. Policy implications of the study include better pre-planning of response and decentralisation of response capacity, as well as joint ventures between donors and governments to provide – and hence own – early warning information.
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