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Backer Leads Research Team on Grant Awarded by German Federal Foreign Office to Advance Acute Malnutrition Forecasting

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Dr. David Backer

Dr. David Backer, Research Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and a Research Professor in the School of Public Policy, is directing a University of Maryland team that has secured over $860,000 in funding for the applied research project “Enabling Anticipatory Action for Acute Malnutrition in Practice Through Strengthening Early Warning Systems.”  The funding is part of a larger grant awarded by the German Federal Foreign Office to an international consortium that is headed by Action Against Hunger, an international NGO network, and also involves another team based within the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.

The project being conducted over a three-year period (2022-2025) aims to improve the capabilities of the humanitarian community to reduce the harms resulting from food security and nutrition crises. For these purposes, Backer and his collaborators are developing statistical models to forecast future acute malnutrition outcomes among young children at the individual and population levels.

The analysis specifically focuses on several countries in East Africa that are regularly vulnerable, due to a combination of risk factors including intersecting climate and conflict conditions. An important feature of the project is to build tools designed to help humanitarian stakeholders to interact with and make sense of the model-based forecasts. In conjunction, the collaborators will test and study the dissemination, uptake and utilization of the analytical products among stakeholders, as a means to demonstrate and refine constructive use cases.

As Backer emphasized, “Generating accurate forecasts of acute malnutrition is only one part of the complex set of challenges of highlighting dangers and saving lives. Identifying the needs of humanitarian stakeholders, tailoring the modeling to suit those needs, providing the right sort of information to stakeholders in the right form at the right time, and doing so in a manner that is intelligible, intuitive, trustworthy and useful are equally essential. We can only appreciate all those requirements via purposeful engagement. The project is distinctive in connecting these elements of analysis, application and assessment in an integrated agenda that combines rigor and practical learning.”

The ultimate ambition is that the statistical models and resulting forecasts and tools could strengthen capacities for gauging and responding to risks, facilitate strategizing about crisis preparedness and early action programming, support coordination mechanisms in setting priorities that achieve efficiencies, and optimize resources invested in humanitarian responses.

Reliable, timely, precise forecasts have the potential to supply valuable early warning that enables stakeholders to take steps ahead of looming crises, facilitating mitigation activities that are better equipped to increase the efficacy and decrease the costs of assistance. The research has implications for decision-making processes and operations across a spectrum of international, national, and local actors.

Within the Action Against Hunger network, the participating units include Action Against Hunger - Germany and Action Against Hunger - U.S., as well as the Horn of East Africa Regional Office and country offices in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. The latest research builds on the previous “Modeling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition” (MERIAM) project, on which Action Against Hunger partnered with UMD, UMN, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva), and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

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