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Disaster prevention is better than cure, says UN emergency chief   

It’s a bold vision but not quite as sci-fi as you might think. Social scientists are already able to predict human migrations in parts of rural Africa by monitoring the price of goats at market. If prices start to fall rapidly it’s a signal that people are packing up and about to move a distance great enough that they can’t take their animals with them.

Satellite images of grazing lands are also able to to predict scarcity months in advance. Since 2010 the government of Kenya has offered insurance to farmers which pays out when these early warnings are recorded.  The money allows them to buy in feed and protect their animals before they starve or become sick.

“In other words, the insurance provides not just the resources to act but also the signal that preemptive action is necessary,” says Mr Lowcock.

Despite his title and responsibilities, the under secretary general has none of the swashbuckling banter or ego that adorns so many politicians.

A former permanent secretary at the Department for International Development (Dfid), he’s carrying a rolled-up poster from the London Transport Museum – a gift for one of his children – when he visits The Telegraph and seems every bit the thoughtful and diligent public servant.

And that’s just as well because the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has a tough year ahead. 

Its Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, published today, predicts that 167.6 million people will need humanitarian aid and protection in the next 12 months at a cost of $28.8 billion (£22 billion). 

Need will be driven mainly by “conflict, climate change and economic stress” – and need is  growing faster than funding, says Mr Lowcock.

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