The images shook the world: Ethiopian children dying of starvation as their emaciated parents looked on, victims of the food shortage and hunger crisis that struck the drought- and conflict-riddled nation from 1983 to 1985.
The images shook the world: Ethiopian children dying of starvation as their emaciated parents looked on, victims of the food shortage and hunger crisis that struck the drought- and conflict-riddled nation from 1983 to 1985. Those photographs sparked unprecedented fundraising and global relief efforts, but by the time food aid arrived, approximately one million people had already died.
For U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and UC Santa Barbara geographer Chris Funk, who was a teenager at the time, that period was one he would never forget.
“For me the Ethiopia crisis was a big deal,” he said. “And so when it came up in graduate school that I could help prevent that kind of thing by working with partners at the USGS, I thought that was pretty cool — using observations from satellites to help prevent famine.”
Funk, along with colleagues Greg Husak and Joel Michaelsen, and other collaborators at UC Santa Barbara met that challenge 20 years later when they rapidly identified another extreme drought — the “worst drought in fifty years”— in Ethiopia. They did so by analyzing over a decade’s worth of climate and vegetation data as part of their work for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET). As a result of FEWS NET’s efforts, food aid was mobilized ahead of time, which helped save countless lives.
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Image via University of California - Santa Barbara.