A New Tool for Assisting Vulnerable Populations During Droughts

By Anthea Webb and Derval Usher

Image courtesy of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

UN Global Pulse, through Pulse Lab Jakarta, and the World Food Programme (WFP) recently developed a tool that can help gain insights on the extent of drought-affected areas, the impacts on food prices and the resilience of affected populations throughout Indonesia.

This is a post by Anthea Webb, Representative and Country Director at the World Food Programme in Indonesia, and Derval Usher, Manager of Pulse Lab Jakarta.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation

Despite rapid economic growth in recent years and an overall improvement in food security, a large number of rural districts in Indonesia were still vulnerable to food insecurity in 2015. Levels of vulnerability to food insecurity vary substantially by geographic region.

As agriculture provides income for the majority of Indonesian households, climate is a decisive factor in the health and welfare of millions of families. Natural climatic events, such as El Niño, create irregular weather patterns that cause suffering to many farmers and their families.

In response to the 2015 start of El Niño, the Office of the President of Republic of Indonesia, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UN Global Pulse teamed up to develop the Vulnerability Analysis Monitoring Platform for the Impact of Regional Events (VAMPIRE).

The tool is the result of a collaboration between practitioners in the field of food security and food assistance and data experts working to harness big data for development and humanitarian action.

The tool can be used to understand the evolving nature of slow onset but medium impact phenomena like El Nino in near real-time to better target government and WFP assistance to vulnerable populations. It has been embedded into the situation room of the Office of the President (Kantor Staf Presiden) of the Republic of Indonesia, its sustainable home.

How does the tool work?

VAMPIRE provides integrated map-based visualisations that show the extent of drought affected areas, the impacts on markets, and the coping strategies and resilience of affected populations.

The tool is a multi-tier system that fuses several databases. First, it visualizes the national socio-economic survey and WFP’s household food security surveys. This data provides information on the percentage and distribution of poor, agriculture-dependant populations, as well as food insecure communities.

Second, it analyzes data on rainfall anomalies and the Indonesian Vegetation Health Index. Rainfall anomaly is a measure of the amount of rainfall in a period compared to the long-term average for that time of year while the vegetation index is a proxy for drought.

Based on the measure of economic vulnerability and exposure to drought, the tool can identify priority areas where people may require assistance. In addition, using crowdsourced data from drought affected areas, the project tested the tracking of price variations for staple foods to understand the correlation between price spikes and vulnerability to drought. Although this latter function is currently unavailable, plans are underway to revive this feature.

Using detailed real-time information to support climate affected populations

Collecting data on rainfall anomalies and food security is not a new or unique activity for governments. But VAMPIRE adds value by dramatically reducing the time required to bring this information together and visualize it in high-resolution and in near real-time.

The system can be further improved by integrating additional data sources and features. For example, mobile phone data could be used to provide information on the movement of communities affected by climate events. Text message alerts could be incorporated to notify affected populations, such as farmers, of climate-related threats.

Lots of potential exists, so get in touch if the project is of interest.


This project is linked to Sustainable Development Goal two, namely end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; and Sustainable Development Goal thirteen, namely take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Pulse Lab Jakarta and World Food Programme are grateful for the generous support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia and the German Federal Funding Office.

Pulse Lab Jakarta is also grateful to the Met Office, NASA and FAO for the video segments in the introductory video.

A shorter version of this blog first appeared on the UN Global Pulse website.