Dialogue Platform Highlights: How can we expand Anticipatory Action in Conflict Settings?

As part of the Anticipation Hub Strategy 2021-2024, one strategic priority of the Hub is to stimulate learning and exchange between practitioners, scientists, and policymakers. Stimulating collaboration between partners engaged across the spectrum of anticipation will generate a better understanding of the barriers we face and the potential opportunities for better anticipatory programming. Some key ways to connect include engagement through virtual Global and Regional Dialogue Platforms, like the upcoming 9th Global Dialogue Platform, and technical working groups, like the Anticipatory Action in Conflict Practitioners Group (ACP). It is particularly relevant to utilize these spaces to brainstorm ways in which anticipatory action can improve in emerging contexts, such as conflict and displacement settings. This year, partners around the world convened to discuss regional advancements in anticipatory action at the Latin American & Caribbean Dialogue Platform and the Africa Dialogue Platform. Colleagues from Colombia, Honduras, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sudan shared insights on their work in the field, including challenges encountered and key steps for the future. While many barriers are unique to each situational context, there is a common thread throughout the presentations on how anticipation can improve in the future.

Why conflict-affected areas?

People living in fragile or conflict-affected areas are particularly vulnerable to climate shocks and stresses. Most deaths from natural disasters occur in conflict areas, in large part due to the lack of preparation and adequate coping mechanisms in place to protect people. The overlap of climate risks and conflict affects access to basic services, weakens government capacity, increases health disparities, and worsens food security which can fuel humanitarian needs. Acting in anticipation aims to reduce the humanitarian needs of a population and ensure life-saving support is given to those that need it most, which is especially relevant to conflict and displacement contexts. In conflict settings, breakthroughs in anticipatory action demand an increased capacity of state and non-state actors, improved facilitation of local expertise and collaboration with local partners, and a better understanding of the context through enhanced data collection and risk mapping.

Fabian Arellano from Red Cross Colombia stressed the need to understand the complex and multi-layered context in Colombia in order to operate successfully. Converging risks need to be taken into account when planning anticipatory actions for climate risks, especially in socially complex and conflict situations.

Building Capacity

The improved capacity at all levels provides a strong foundation for the success of programs. Nearly all session leaders and speakers mentioned the need to build capacity to improve the effectiveness of early actions. Over the last 13 years, FAO Colombia has helped over 40,000 families affected by agro-climatic and conflict risks. For their programs to be successful, they call for the increased capacity of risk management at multiple levels, from state institutions and hydro-meteorological services to local community organizing. Improved anticipation and future resilience to the double risk of climate and conflict require a strong and capable foundation. FAO Burkina Faso echoed similar calls to action when detailing the future of anticipation in their work. Strengthening the capacity of government authority and local institutions is key to better understanding the context and the needs of the people affected. Anticipating the needs of a situation isn’t always possible, but more capable government bodies and better cooperation with humanitarian actors allow for better early response.

One of the primary lessons we are learning, applying, and qualifying is how to make comprehensive risk analyses with communities in rural areas where there are permanent pressures due to armed groups, displacement, and confinement, and ever-present risks of droughts and floods?... We have adapted to the reality of our programming and work closely with communities on these dual threats.

María Consuelo Vergara, FAO Colombia

Local Expertise & Collaboration

Efforts to increase localization have long been touted as a priority within the humanitarian sector, but taking advantage of the resources available through local knowledge remains a gap in programming anticipatory actions. Local knowledge is a key resource when planning and improving anticipatory actions for the simple reason that affected people will understand the needs and the context better than anyone. At the LAC Dialogue, Teresa Armijos Burneo, Lecturer in Natural Resources and International Development at the University of East Anglia, presented research that sought to understand the double-risk of displacement and disaster risk in Colombia. In particular, the research aimed to measure how displaced people interact with multiple forms of risks and the capacity of local communities and organizations that support them. Barriers to effective anticipation include gaps in assistance due to limited access to rural high-risk areas and the fact that people fall through the cracks of institutional and legal care. The main point to tackle these challenges is to seek local and indigenous knowledge and cultivate a closer connection to community leadership. Recognizing the lived experience and involving local capacity at each step of the programming is essential to all areas of humanitarian and development work, and a vital key to improving anticipation. While numbers and figures are pivotal for understanding successful programs, there needs to be an emphasis on listening to the experiences of those at the heart of anticipatory action.

Similarly, Gado Abdouramane from the Climate Centre spoke of the importance of local community involvement in the planning of early-action protocols for flooding by the Mali Red Cross. Inter-community conflicts and food insecurity add complexity to executing successful early-response to riverine floods, but community training and awareness-raising campaigns by the Mali Red Cross volunteers were essential to communicate the response plan. By relying on community involvement and capable volunteers, the Mali Red Cross will be able to respond in anticipation of flooding once triggers are met, even in a context that is complicated by conflict. Speakers from Red Cross national societies in Honduras and Colombia also pointed to the importance of utilizing local capacity when planning anticipatory actions in complex settings.

Can we anticipate all the needs that arise for displaced people in conflict settings? No. In order to better anticipate, we need to better know and understand the situation… Better understanding will lead to better response.

Koffy Kouacou, FAO Burkina Faso

Climate Centre Junior Researcher, Cornelia Scholz explains her research on hotspot mapping of high-risk areas in Sudan with particular emphasis on unmapped areas. By creating a visual understanding of unmapped and unreached areas, factoring in historical impacts of conflict and natural hazards, we can create better baseline data for planning future anticipatory action with the context in mind.

Context is Key

A better understanding of the context is at the root of better anticipation. Improved knowledge of the situational environment and the key drivers of conflict and displacement, while foundational to good programming, needs to be at the center of organizations’ efforts to improve their early-action response. Humanitarian actors can only respond to what they understand, so it is essential to have an informed, multi-layered, and dynamic view of the context. Koffy Kouacou from FAO Burkina Faso stressed the fact that improved knowledge of the situation, stemming from improved government capacity, will inform improved programming of early-response. Understanding the context is an ongoing process. We need better foundational insight into a situation and the needs of the most vulnerable people, but also a flexible and layered view that can change as rapidly as the situation.

So how can we better understand? There must be engagement with local partners and government institutions. A clearer understanding of context is also rooted in improved data collection and mapping tools. Research presented by the Climate Centre has sought to map the multi-layer risks present in Sudan to fully grasp the complexity of the interaction between conflict, displacement, and natural hazard risks, especially over an extended timescale. The results point us to unmapped hotspots in which future programs could reach those at the center of such complex risks. This attempt to visually capture unmapped and highly vulnerable areas is a step forward for organizations to be armed with better knowledge and contextual information. Utilizing tools like OpenStreetMaps and remote data collection also point to more accessible and locally-driven forms of feedback and expertise when building context analysis.

Improved knowledge does not always lead to better or improved action, so the most important question remains: how do we structure these much-needed changes in practice? If we agree on the barriers present and the key steps forward, then how do we work toward improving things across anticipatory action? The next step for the anticipation community involves asking these questions and sharing breakthroughs and challenges to improve early response in complex settings.

Dialogue Platforms create a space for learning and collaboration that will hopefully lead to answering these essential questions. To join the conversation, sign up for the upcoming virtual Global Dialogue Platform and read more about anticipatory action in conflict on the Anticipation Hub.