9 Feb 2023

Coordination, localization and funding: three steps towards better anticipatory humanitarian action

At the 10th Global Dialogue Platform, the Academic Alliance on Anticipatory Action (4As) facilitated a discussion on the role of partnerships in anticipatory action. This included a case study from Lesotho and lightning talks with representatives from Bangladesh and the Philippines. The session, ‘Partnerships and climate change adaptation: linking stakeholders for live-saving adaptation’, highlighted the need for affected communities to be the central stakeholders in anticipatory action initiatives, as they are the ones exposed to extreme events and in need of appropriate actions to avoid and reduce the impacts of a disaster.

At the same time, a range of different stakeholders must work together to reduce the negative impacts caused by extreme weather events. This blog explores how a number of the themes debated during the session – including coordination, localization and funding – should be applied to anticipatory action efforts in the future, illustrated using the examples of success and failure shared by participants at the session.

Improved coordination

There is often weak coordination in anticipatory action efforts globally.  This can result in collaborations being ineffective and inefficient. For example, the Lesotho Red Cross Society and the World Food Programme (WFP) Lesotho have both implemented anticipatory action programmes that target drought. The Lesotho Red Cross Society focuses on forecast-based financing by working to develop early action protocols (EAPs), while WFP Lesotho’s project, Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food-Insecure Populations in Lesotho, aims to improve community responses through adaptation plans and strengthened government capacity. However, due to insufficient coordination, these projects were implemented around the same time and targeted the same issue and population. Such overlaps can result in duplicated efforts and resources, as well as competition between organizations.

During the session at the 10th Global Dialogue Platform, the district disaster coordinator in Lesotho, who is also the Disaster Management Authority’s focal person in the aforementioned projects, recommended introducing a coordination mechanism where all institutional partners can meet and deliberate on anticipatory action. Possible topics for discussion include: forecasts and forecasting skills; EAPs for different disasters; findings from project evaluations; policy dialogue about anticipatory action; and the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders. All of these could improve effectiveness and efficiency within the community working to advance anticipatory action. Given that this closely aligns with the goals of the Anticipation Hub, efforts to establish this type of localized coordination, led by the Anticipation Hub, could be a step towards better integration within the various aspects of anticipatory action.

In terms of extreme events that have not been experienced in a region before, the public, private, academic and humanitarian sectors must break away from their traditional working silos and instead work together to advance anticipatory action. This requires having a harmonizing strategy for collaborative action, for example through coordinating policies that clearly explain the role of each partner and how this contributes to the collaborative effort.

Ideally, each partner’s role would reflect its specific mandates, relative strengths and capacity. This was evident in a collaborative anticipatory flood response in Uganda and Zambia, where the successful implementation of anticipatory action was attributed to strong coordination and the removal of bureaucratic barriers to action. Here, each institutional partner could exchange and access information through a newly created dashboard; previously, this information was difficult to obtain. This exemplifies how strong coordination can propel anticipatory action forward.

This figure represents a suggested form of coordination between stakeholders, with local communities at the centre of decision-making and the private, public, humanitarian and academic sectors breaking from their silos and collaborating to advance anticipatory action.

Engaged localization

The participation of communities throughout the planning, decision-making and implementation of anticipatory action is not just tokenism; it is their right. However, participation needs to be interactive and representative. This entails arranging a collaborative arena that meets the needs of communities and creates a stimulating, somewhat informal environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and feedback. It is essential to use interdisciplinary methodologies that seek out multiple perspectives and use systematic and structured learning processes.

This was the case in Sibi, Pakistan, where Bright Star implemented locally led action against heat waves in the form of cooling centres. These actions were evaluated by the Start Network, which found that “those that we interviewed stressed how important it was that Bright Star had consulted with local government officials and communities and this facilitated trust from the community and facilitation by the relevant administration”.

Although localization is an emerging theme in the anticipatory action space, it is important to approach this concept with the knowledge that there is potential for both diligent and negligent localization. Some leaders have a tendency to withhold information and confuse community-level priorities with larger political influences. Given this risk, ensuring that the leaders consulted represent the interests of all community members – or even consulting a diverse variety of individuals, not necessarily community leaders – is crucial.

Position local communities as decision-makers, not just implementers.

Session attendee

Increased funding

Readily accessible funding is key to the mobilization of all humanitarian activities, and especially anticipatory action. In Lesotho, however, a previous drought event demonstrates what can happen if funding is too little and too late. The government of Lesotho largely relies on the post-disaster reallocation of its budget, as well as donor assistance, to finance post-disaster responses. This approach has often resulted in uncertain and insufficient funding, as well as delays in response activities.

In July 2015, 35 per cent of Lesotho’s rural population was estimated to be food insecure due to drought, but the government waited until December 2015 to declare a drought emergency. This delayed the response time for mobilizing the resources needed to provide support and, by January and May 2016, the share of households reporting food insecurity had risen to 41 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively.

The government responded by financing the implementation of emergency water-supply infrastructure in affected communities and, starting in June 2016 – a year after the drought had begun to cause food insecurity – it introduced a general food-price subsidy. The international development community also provided various forms of assistance. Despite these efforts, in 2019 the World Bank indicated that Lesotho had an estimated average annual funding gap for disaster risk financing of 12.4m US dollars, indicating that its financial resources were less than the average annual cost of disasters. Delays in support, which manifested as acute needs, potentially contributed to this funding gap.

However, there has since been a paradigm shift in Lesotho. As mentioned, humanitarian organizations such as the Lesotho Red Cross Society and WFP are supporting the advancement of anticipatory action in the country. In another promising development, the Early Warning Climate Forecasting project, implemented by Lesotho Meteorological Services, aims to strengthen early-warning systems to translate warnings into anticipatory action ahead of specific disasters. All these projects make funding available to build and develop anticipatory action by ensuring that the necessary actors and protocols are in place to implement anticipatory measures when triggered. It is hoped that the government of Lesotho will adopt and scale up anticipatory action further, for example by committing a contingency fund to support this approach.

Develop and adopt a national strategy for disaster risk financing, and surge funding for extreme events.

Session attendee

Final thoughts

Extreme events require investment from all stakeholders and partnerships between the key actors, and the need to encourage the cross-fertilization of ideas on anticipatory action cannot be overemphasized. When coordinating stakeholders and building cross-sector partnerships, it is essential to include diverse representation – and especially by local communities, who should always be at the centre of collaborations.

This blog was written by Relebohile A. Mojaki and Leah B. Poole, researchers for the Academic Alliance for Anticipatory Action. Photos by Carolyn Van Sant.