Wednesday December 13, 2017

Can Computer Algorithms Help End Hunger in Africa?

The system will be able to draw insights from a massive amount of diverse data enabling it to identify hunger risks faster than traditional methods.

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Acutely malnourished child, Sacdiyo Mohamed, 9 months old, is treated at the Banadir Hospital after her mother fled the drought in southern Somalia and traveled by car to the capital Mogadishu, March 11, 2017, VOA.
  • National Early Warning System (NEWS) will catch the exact signs of hunger crisis in Africa 
  • In 2030, Africa is going to have 200 million children below the age of five
  • The system is expected to become operational in four African countries

Kenya, June 3, 2017: Computer algorithms power much of modern life from our Facebook feeds to international stock exchanges. Could they help end malnutrition and hunger in Africa? The International Center for Tropical Agriculture thinks so.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture has spent the past four years developing the Nutrition Early Warning System, or NEWS.

The goal is to catch the subtle signs of a hunger crisis brewing in Africa as much as a year in advance.

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CIAT says the system uses machine learning. As more information is fed into the system, the algorithms will get better at identifying patterns and trends. The system will get smarter.

Information Technology expert Andy Jarvis leads the project.

“The cutting edge side of this is really about bringing in streams of information from multiple sources and making sense of it. … But it is a huge volume of information and what it does, the novelty then, is making sense of that using things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and condensing it into simple messages,” he said.

Other nutrition surveillance systems exist, like FEWSnet, the Famine Early Warning System Network which was created in the mid-1980s.

But CIAT says NEWS will be able to draw insights from a massive amount of diverse data enabling it to identify hunger risks faster than traditional methods.

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“What is different about NEWS is that it pays attention to malnutrition, not just drought or famine, but the nutrition outcome that really matters, malnutrition especially in women and children. For the first time, we are saying these are the options way ahead of time. That gives policymakers an opportunity to really do what they intend to do which is make the lives of women and children better in Africa,” said Dr. Mercy Lung’aho, a CIAT nutrition expert.

While food emergencies like famine and drought grab headlines, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture says chronic malnutrition affects one in four people in Africa, taking a serious toll on economic growth and leaving them especially vulnerable in times of crisis.

Senior policy officer Olufunso Somorin is with the Africa Development Bank.

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“In 2030, 13 years from now, Africa is going to have 200 million children below the age of five. Now once a child is stunted or misses a level of nourishment at that age, it affects that child psychologically, economically, socially. So a stunted child in the future is actually a stunted economy. So linking issues of nutrition at individual level to Africa’s development and transformation on a broader scale is important,” said Somorin.

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CIAT says African governments will be able to access NEWS via “nutrition dashboards” where they can get risk assessments, alerts, and recommendations.

The system is expected to become operational in four African countries, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria, by year’s end. (VOA)

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UN Report on Rohingya Hunger Crisis Suspended on Order of Myanmar Government

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar's Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

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Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

United Nations, October 17, 2017: The UN food aid agency withdrew a critical report revealing desperate hunger among the Rohingya Muslim minority after the Myanmar government ordered it to be taken down, the media reported on Tuesday.

The July assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that more than 80,000 children under the age of five were “wasting” – a potentially fatal condition of rapid weight loss, reports the Guardian.

The six-page document has since been replaced with a statement saying Myanmar and WFP were “collaborating on a revised version”.

That process would involve “representatives from various ministries, and will respond to the need for a common approach” that was in line with “WFP’s future cooperation with the government”.

When asked why the July report was removed, the WFP said it was withdrawn from the website “following a request by the government to conduct a joint review”, the Guardian reported.

In a statement, the agency said: “The WFP stands by its original assessment, which was conducted jointly with local authorities in Rakhine state… However WFP recognises that in a dynamic and evolving situation, it is important to coordinate closely with all partners, including the government.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s most senior official in the country is scheduled to leave at the end of the month amid allegations she suppressed another report and also attempted to shut down public advocacy on Rohingya suffering.

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar’s Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

It resulted in over half a million Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, many alleging that the Myanmar Army conducted a counter-offensive that included mass killings and rapes.(IANS)

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Annual Global Hunger Index : Global Hunger Levels Rise for the first time in ten years ; Africa tops the list

The index is based on levels of hunger in the general population, and rates of wasting, stunting and deaths among children under 5 years old.

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A mother holds onto her emaciated infant at an emergency feeding clinic in Maradi, Niger. (VOA)

Rome, October 12, 2017 : Global hunger has fallen more than a quarter since 2000, but conflict and climate shocks are beginning to reverse these gains, an annual global hunger index said.

Nearly half of the 119 countries surveyed had “serious,” “alarming” or “extremely alarming” hunger levels between 2012 and 2016, with war-torn Central African Republic worst affected, followed by Chad, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Zambia.

“Conflict- and climate-related shocks are at the heart of this problem,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern, which compiled the report along with the International Food Policy Research Institute and Welthungerhilfe.

About half of the populations in the hungriest countries were short of food, it said.

South Sudan and Somalia, which are at risk of renewed famine, were among 13 countries excluded from the index because of lack of data.

The United Nations said last month that global hunger levels had risen for the first time in more than a decade, now affecting 11 percent of the world’s population, or 815 million people.

Famine struck parts of South Sudan earlier this year, the U.N. said, and there is a high risk that it could return there, as well as develop in other countries hit by conflict: northeast Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

Yemen came sixth in the index as its hunger crisis has spiked since 2015, when civil war erupted and the data cover the period 2012 to 2016.

ALSO READ Global Hunger on Rise Again: UN Food Agencies

Although most of Nigeria is relatively food secure, the eight-year Islamist Boko Haram insurgency has left millions in the northeast at risk of starvation.

“We must build the resilience of communities on the ground, but we must also bolster public and political solidarity internationally,” MacSorley said in a statement.

The survey found that 14 countries — including Senegal, Azerbaijan, Peru, Panama, Brazil and China — had made significant improvements since 2000.

The index is based on levels of hunger in the general population, and rates of wasting, stunting and deaths among children under 5 years old.

Women, girls and ethnic minorities are most at risk of hunger, which causes nearly half of deaths in under 5s, it said.

“The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no one is left behind,” MacSorley said. (VOA)

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Recent Poll Reveals that 67% Americans Receive their News from Social Media

While Facebook still dwarfs other social media sites in terms of news dissemination, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube made strong gains in the number of people using the sites for news over the course of the last year

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Social Media is the source of news for 67% Americans. Wikimedia

September 08, 2017: A full 67 percent of Americans now report receiving at least a portion of their news from social media, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The Pew Research poll showed a small increase since early 2016, when 62 percent of people said they relied on social media for some of their news. The overall change isn’t particularly substantial, but among some demographics, social media use increased significantly.

Also Read: Children’s Commissioner for England Warns against Overuse of Social Media among Children

Among non-white U.S. adults, 74 percent now say they get news from social media, marking a 10-percent increase over last year when 64 percent said they did. Similarly, among those aged 50 or older, the percentage who said they receive news from social media rose by 10 percent from 2016 to 55 percent.

While Facebook still dwarfs other social media sites in terms of news dissemination, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube made strong gains in the number of people using the sites for news over the course of the last year.

“Looking at the population as a whole, Facebook by far still leads every other sites as a source of news. This is largely due to Facebook’s large user base, compared with other platforms, and the fact that most of its users get news on the site,” the report reads.

Twitter showed a 15-percent increase in the number of users who said that’s where they get their news, from 59 percent in 2016 to 74 percent in 2017. The number of YouTube users who get news from the site rose from 21 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2017. Snapchat showed a 12-percent gain, from 17 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2017. (IANS)