What is anticipatory action?

Anticipatory action refers to actions taken to reduce the humanitarian impacts of a forecast hazard before it occurs, or before its most acute impacts are felt. The decision to act is based on a forecast, or collective risk analysis, of when, where and how the event will unfold (IFRC 2020).

Anticipatory action is a humanitarian approach that aims to save lives and livelihoods and reduce losses and suffering. It takes different forms and happens on a range of scales, depending on the mandate of the organizations involved, the context in which people live, the type of hazard(s) they are facing, and the available forecasts and data for that hazard. Depending on the type of hazard and forecasts available, anticipatory action can be carried out well ahead of the shock (for slower onset events) or just before the impacts fully take hold (for more rapid-onset events).

Most organizations active in this sector agree on the following parameters for anticipatory action:

  • The objective is to empower communities and humanitarians to act earlier and thus prevent, or at least mitigate, acute and imminent humanitarian impacts before they fully unfold.
  • The decision to implement the actions is based on forecasts or predictive analyses of when and where a hazard will occur.
  • Actions are implemented before the hazard’s impact, or before its most acute humanitarian impacts are felt, with the objective to reduce these impacts.

Anticipatory action works best if the following core components are pre-agreed by stakeholders:

  • the actions to be taken and the specific roles of each stakeholder
  • the threshold levels that are used to release the funds and ‘trigger’ the actions; these usually combine forecasts with data on impacts of past events, exposure and vulnerability
  • financing, with the amount, source and disbursement pre-arranged to allow the actions to be implemented immediately once the triggers are met and before hazard impacts unfold.

Anticipatory action is reshaping the humanitarian system, driving a shift from reacting to hazards to acting ahead of them. Various organizations implement and promote anticipatory action around the world, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Start Network, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Anticipatory action: a few key points

  • Anticipatory action is part of the disaster risk management cycle.  
  • It systematically links early warnings to early action.
  • Acting before the onset of a forecast hazard helps to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people around the world.
  • Acting before a hazard becomes a disaster helps to build people’s resilience to future shocks and eases the pressure on strained humanitarian resources.  
  • Anticipatory action should not be seen as a substitute for longer-term investment in disaster risk reduction; instead, it aims to strengthen people’s capacity to manage risks.

A short overview of anticipatory action

A short overview of anticipatory action

This briefing gives a short summary of what anticipatory action is, how it helps a population affected by crisis and in which way it is linked to disaster risk reduction and preparedness.

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Find out more

The IFRC has created several resources explaining what anticipatory action is and how it works.

IFRC Early Warning, Early Action

What is Anticipatory Action? (YouTube)

'Anticipatory Action: A Proactive Approach to Disaster Risk Management' e-learning course (you need to register to access this)

This FAO video explains what anticipatory action is.

What is Anticipatory Action? (YouTube)

OCHA has developed several useful resources to explain anticipatory action.

Anticipatory Action Resource page

WFP have collated information about their anticipatory action projects worldwide, including success stories and explainers.

Anticipatory Action resource page

This podcast from the Climate Centre explores the background to this approach, which was originally known as ‘forecast-based financing’.

Can't Take the Heat podcast

The Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) has created a glossary of terms that are used in this field of work – such as anticipatory action, early action, forecast-based financing – and how they relate to each other.

Glossary of Early Action Terms: 2022 Edition

If you would like to learn more about anticipatory action, including how to apply this approach, visit the ‘Learn’ section of the Anticipation Hub.

Why is anticipatory action important?

Most hazards are predictable and treating them as such creates a critical opportunity to act early and save people’s lives, while also building their long-term resilience. Unfortunately, these opportunities are often missed. Despite improvements in our ability to predict the likelihood of a hazard, and to identify which places will be worst affected, much of the humanitarian system continues to act only once a hazard has struck. Many humanitarian agencies still respond once a disaster has occurred – and even then, their response is often slow. This results in lives and livelihoods being lost.  

One of the biggest problems is how funds are provided. Funding systems within the humanitarian sector are often slow and they are mostly reactive: according to the Start Network, for every 10 US dollars spent on humanitarian relief, only 1 US dollar is spent on reducing and managing risks.

Shifting to anticipatory action changes this. It is a faster, more efficient and more dignified way to deliver humanitarian assistance. There is clear evidence of the multiple benefits of anticipatory action and new evidence is appearing all the time. By scaling up and accelerating this shift, anticipatory action can help to deliver a humanitarian system that saves more lives and prevents the worst impacts of disasters, while also helping to protect developmental gains – a humanitarian system that anticipates rather than reacts. 

The need to scale up anticipatory action

The case for anticipatory action is clear, and this approach has gained significant momentum in recent years. Over 60 organizations now use it to reduce the impact of disasters.  

However, it is not happening at the scale required. The total number of people covered by this approach remains limited and it is not yet adopted in all countries that experience disasters. Nor is anticipatory action being applied to all types of disaster, with the focus still largely on climate- and weather-related disasters.  

More organizations need to start using anticipatory action in their programmes, until it becomes the dominant approach to coping with forecastable hazards. Achieving this shift will require greater efforts and major change in many different areas.  

The Anticipatory Action Task Force identified five key policy asks that are needed for this shift to happen:  

  1. Expand flexible, coordinated and predictable financing for anticipatory action
  2. Invest in early warning and preparedness capacities, especially at the local level
  3. Make anticipatory action applicable to a wider range of hazards
  4. Encourage collective learning, coordination and partnerships
  5. Mainstream anticipatory action into national disaster management systems.

You can read the policy brief with more details of each of these here.