Anticipatory Action

Work with UN OCHA resulted in the following key messages:

  1. Humanitarian needs and costs are already skyrocketing due to extreme weather, conflict, epidemics, and other hazards; the combination of slow, unplanned, and unpredictable humanitarian funding is further increasing the total cost of disaster response.
  • It is a humanitarian and moral imperative to mitigate the impacts of predictable disasters; more than half of all humanitarian crises are associated with varying degrees of predictability, but only 1% of funding is issued via pre-agreed channels.
  • Available empirical evidence indicates that locally-led anticipatory action (AA) can facilitate a faster, more cost-efficient, and more dignified response, while simultaneously increasing the accountability towards donors and beneficiaries.
  • AA at scale requires a collaborative effort that is led by the governments of affected countries and linked to smart exit strategies, such as shock-responsive social safety nets.
  • AA depends on existing and new humanitarian funding to be used in a flexible and anticipatory manner; acting ahead of disasters should be mainstreamed into Humanitarian Response Plans.

The world needs an alternative to slow, unplanned and unpredictable humanitarian funding

Human-induced climate change is already increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as heat waves and heavy precipitation in many parts of the world (IPCC, 2021). Developing and emerging countries are disproportionately burdened (IFRC, 2020), whereas the proportion of insured losses is still well below 10% and often almost zero (Munich Re, 2020). In parallel, the COVID-19 highlighted that our capacity to mitigate the impact of health emergencies, but also of all other types of disaster is lacking[1]. Forecasting systems are often blamed for not having enough ‘skill’. However, more than half of all humanitarian crises are associated with varying degrees of predictability. Yet, only 1% of funding is issued through pre-agreed triggers and plans (ODI, START Network, 2019). In addition, funding for crises is typically very slow[2], which prolongs and ultimately increases suffering. In many cases, the combination of slow, unplanned, and unpredictable funding can dramatically increase the total cost of disaster response (Centre for Disaster Protection, 2021). In short, despite its many limitations, humanitarian response is still often regarded as more visible and defensible than acting before disaster strikes. This needs to change.

It is a humanitarian and moral imperative to mitigate the impacts of predictable disasters

While donors are increasingly generous, humanitarian needs and costs are growing even faster. In 2020, less than 50% of the financial requirements in Humanitarian Response Plans could be covered (UN OCHA, 2020). Empirical evidence indicates that acting based on early warnings can help to protect lives and livelihoods while simultaneously reducing costs (Lopez et al., 2020). Locally-led Anticipatory Action[3] (AA) is the manifestation of this mindset. It combines predictive analytics to pre-agreed finance and pre-agreed action to protect the vulnerable communities from disasters that might jeopardize years of development gains. Acting ahead of shocks should become the preferred humanitarian approach. It needs to scale via a coordinated effort that puts local stakeholders at the center of planning and implementation. This paper aims to inform an upcoming high-level event on AA on 9 September 2021. Building on recent G7 commitments towards AA (e.g. UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, 2021) and ahead of UNFCCC COP26, we highlight the benefits and challenges of AA and outline a possible way forward. Furthermore, this report seeks to address some of the most critical questions posed by donor governments and the humanitarian community. It explains how AA can lead to faster, more cost-efficient and dignified mechanisms to alleviate human suffering.

[1] The COVID-19 pandemic pushed an additional 119-124 million people below the US$ 1.90/day poverty line (World Bank, 2021).

[2] For instance: the World Bank’s Crisis Response Window (CRW) took on average more than a year to release funds between 2010 and 2019.

[3] The terms AA, Forecast-based Financing (FBF), Forecast-based Early Action (FBA) and Early Warning Early Action (EWEA)  are often used interchangeably, sometimes depending on the funding source