Acting before disasters hit

Oct 13, 2022

As today is the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which this year focuses on early action, we flag four things that you need to know about anticipatory action.

In 2020 Sudan faced its worst floods ever with nearly 900,000 people affected. Photo credit: OCHA/Fayez Abu Bakr

What if we invested in protecting people from the impacts of hazards, rather than waiting for the worst to happen and then responding to help? That’s the guiding principle of anticipatory action, an approach to disaster risk management that is gaining traction around the world.

The approach makes us more proactive than reactive.

Despite its successes, there’s still a long way to go to ensure early action for all. This would require massively scaling up anticipatory approaches and better engaging the private sector.

1. Anticipatory action is gaining momentum in the humanitarian sector

Shahidul and Rowshan with their daughters, Sayma Khatun and Sumaiya Khatun, under a mosquito net on the boat where they slept after their house was submerged during floods in Bangladesh in 2020. Rowshan was among those who received a cash payment of US$53 from the World Food Programme (WFP), which allowed her to buy food and keep her family safe as they waited out the flooding. Photo credit: WFP/Sayed Asif Mahmud

Anticipatory action means “acting ahead of predicted hazards to prevent or reduce acute humanitarian impacts before they fully unfold”. This innovative approach that combines pre-agreed financing with early warning triggered by weather information has been gaining popularity since 2014. Anticipatory action projects are now being developed in 70 countries.

As the adoption of this approach grows, so too does evidence about its benefits. Most importantly, studies show that anticipatory action saves lives and livelihoods, helps to preserve people’s dignity and provides value for money.

2. Multistakeholder approach to anticipatory action works

PDRF provided emergency relief assistance to people affected by Typhoon Rai / OdettePH in the Philippines in December 2021. Photo credit: PDRF

The Philippines, the world’s most at-risk country, invests heavily in disaster preparedness and early warning systems at national and local levels, including through the strong engagement of civil society organizations and the private sector.

Since 2017, The Philippine Red Cross has worked with partners to develop early action protocols for floods and cyclones, and in 2021, OCHA included the Philippines in the first series of countries to receive anticipatory action funding through its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

For the first time, the pilot project included mechanisms to protect small businesses, in partnership with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), a private sector network and member of Connecting Business initiative (CBi) which mobilizes the private sector before, during and after emergencies. CBi is a joint OCHA and UN Development Programme initiative supporting private sector engagement in emergencies in some of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. PDRF also acted as a local partner for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to rent safe places to store critical livelihood items, such as boats, fishing nets, tools and seeds.

To assist small business owners in urban centres, the Philippine Red Cross has developed specific emergency action protocols, including relocating these businesses to be closer to evacuation shelters and putting in place trucks as “rolling stores”. However, such interventions quickly stretch humanitarian capacity, and require an involvement of other institutions such as banks to reach scale.

This is complementary to the work PDRF is doing with the Humanitarian Country Team to offer capacity building for small businesses. Through its Business-led Emergency Operations Centre, PDRF runs simulation exercises to prepare for different disaster scenarios. They also scaled up their online recovery hub, SIKAP, to offer business continuity support to micro-, small and medium-sized entreprises.

3. Anticipatory action has helped save lives, but more needs to be done

A woman and her baby at a nutrition outreach centre in September 2022 in a camp for people displaced in Doolow, Somalia. Photo credit: OCHA/Yao Chen

The Horn of Africa is currently facing its worst drought in decades, due to multiple consecutive failed rainy seasons. Early on in this drought cycle, the OCHA provided funds to support anticipatory action in the region. In Ethiopia, for example, a first $20 million funding helped provide life-saving assistance to 900,000 people, followed by a $5 million allocation for people affected by drought. In Somalia, the anticipatory action allocation helped 600,000 people with assistance.

In Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, the Red Cross championed anticipatory actions focusing on floods and drought. In Ethiopia, the mechanism focuses on riverine flooding. Funds are pre-allocated to save lives, reduce water contamination, as well as damage to houses and crops.

However, humanitarian needs have been increasing dramatically in the region because of drought, COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, and protracted conflict, bringing Somalia to the brink of famine, and highlighting the need for increased investment in early action and multi-stakeholder involvement.

4. Local businesses play a key role in early action

The Vanuatu Resilience Business Council (VBRC), a Connecting Business initiative Member Network, works with women business owners to support a resilient recovery. Photo credit: VBRC/Groovy Banana

Early action goes beyond anticipatory action and provides important opportunities for small businesses to better prepare for disasters. This includes:

Developing earthquake and hurricane preparedness. In the Caribbean, the French Red Cross, through the READY Together programme, provides small businesses with planning tools and infographics.

Proposing business continuity planning tools for small businesses. CBi has partnered with the PDRF to develop a self-paced, free online course, with examples from CBi Member Networks worldwide.

With rising costs from increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather-related disasters, it’s essential to scale up investment in anticipatory action so it becomes an integral part of humanitarian efforts. The involvement of the private sector, with its expertise and resources, is key to ensure no one is left behind in achieving early action for all.

This article was written by the Connecting Business initiative, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Action (OCHA) and Anticipation Hub. Daniel Pfister, Eddie Jjemba Sabaganzi, Ian O’Donnell, Priscilla Lecomte, Samantha Moreno, and Tim Woods have contributed to this article.