Submitted by Mirianna Budimir and Dorothy Heinrich
6 Oct 2023

Early warning early action is the hot topic – but are we doing enough to reduce long-term risk?

Many of us in the Anticipation Hub community will be attending the 11th (!) Global Dialogue Platform in Berlin or online. These events are important moments for taking stock, sharing lessons and reaffirming the principles that bind anticipatory action efforts. Over the past Dialogue Platforms, we have seen great progress on the early warning early action (EWEA) agenda. These yearly stocktakes and other moments during the year show us that, while there is much progress to celebrate, we still have a lot to do.

This blog outlines some of the key things we will be looking to discuss at the Global Dialogue Platform, a conversation we have been having within the humanitarian and disaster risk reduction sectors related to EWEA over the past year. This is by no means an extensive list, but we're hoping it may spark some conversations.

Collaboration with disaster management is essential

The Anticipation Hub’s comprehensive Anticipatory Action in 2022: A Global Overviewreport outlines key recommendations on which we have been reflecting in various circles:

  1. Flexible, coordinated and predictable financing for anticipatory action.
  2. Investment in early warning and preparedness capacities, especially at local levels.
  3. Applying anticipatory action to a wider variety of hazards.
  4. Collective learning, coordination and partnerships.
  5. Mainstreaming anticipatory action into national disaster management systems.

It is #4 and #5 which have particularly resonated with us this year. National disaster management systems can be the most legitimate and sustainable spaces in which to house and mainstream anticipatory action principles and systems. But these systems are often siloed from other state departments and non-state actors, which risks missing opportunities and duplicating efforts on EWEA.

We have also seen that collective learning, coordination and partnerships are often barriers to mainstreaming anticipatory action, but that harnessing the potential of these relationships is one of our greatest assets. We also see gaps in knowledge and discourse about the role, opportunities and risks posed by current EWEA investments in building overall resilience to shocks and long-term adaptation.

Are we siloing EWEA?

There has been significant progress in the EWEA space in recent years and there has been movement away from purely response, towards acting before a disaster occurs. This is great and should be celebrated: the role of the humanitarian sector has been vital in spearheading this move. But the conversation so far has focused on the potential benefits of EWEA as an approach, without sufficient attention to how it must be linked with other disaster-related activities and resilience-building.

As climate risk experts, we recognize that EWEA is both vital and that it needs to be part of a wider plan for disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management. EWEA is an essential service for everyone to have access to information and resources to save lives and livelihoods, reducing the impacts and losses from disasters. But research has shown that the most impactful disasters of the past century were forecast and had warnings; it is also clear that EWEA is only one part of the puzzle of disaster risk reduction and management.

EWEA alone cannot break disaster cycles and any potential longer-term developmental gains will be limited if that is the sole focus of EWEA initiatives. Increased investment on the early action part of the equation should be seen as central, but connecting these actions to longer-term resilience-building is key. We need to do more than ‘just’ mobilize the humanitarian sector to act just before the disaster; we need to work with other stakeholders in the system to shift attention further towards preparedness, risk reduction, adaptation, and longer-term resilience to all shocks.

EWEA is underutilized as an entry point to achieve results at scale

Here are some potential ways in which the humanitarian, development and disaster risk reduction sectors can (and in some cases, already do) work together to achieve the results, and the scale, that is required to deal with the impacts of increasing shocks and stresses in a changing climate.

EWEA can be a vehicle to move towards more – and more robust –preparedness and greater resilience. EWEA has important potential to be a ‘hook’ for greater preparedness efforts and investments. We have seen the power of the EWEA framing and concepts in galvanizing attention and shifting disaster-response paradigms towards greater preparedness. More can certainly be done on this front to pull things even earlier in the preparedness phases of the disaster risk reduction continuum. Humanitarians must work more with the development sector to move things back along the timeline, to more proactive preparedness. Overarchingly, building resilience to all shocks in the short, medium and long term should be the ultimate goal. 

EWEA multistakeholder collaboration could better support longer-term risk reduction, resilience-building and adaptation. End-to-end EWEA requires a range of stakeholders across the full value chain to work together to ensure effective systems fit for purpose. These collaborative relationships can be used for longer-term resilience-building across sectors. To do this, humanitarians must work closely with governmental disaster risk reduction sectors and with the high level of expertise related to resilience-building in a variety of sectors, as well as local, national and international NGOs, and development and disaster risk reduction organizations.

EWEA is a way of improving the use of scientific risk information and longer-term informed decision-making. The EWEA conversation, and the actors it requires, provide an excellent entry point to develop and use weather forecasts and climate information more broadly. This can be an opportunity to increase collaborations between national hydrometeorological services and the users of their information, and to build longer-term risk understanding and risk-informed decision-making.

EWEA funding can be leveraged to utilize scarce resources more effectively for risk-informed development and long-term resilience-building. There remain scarce funds available for preparedness and resilience-building, but increased investment in EWEA provides an opportunity to support longer-term disaster risk reduction and resilience work, rather than only early-response activities. Some examples of no-regret and resilience-building anticipatory actions exist, as well as concerns about maladaptation. More thought and evidence about the choice and design of these actions are needed, to build EWEA that is also consciously designed to support long-term development and adaptation.

We can – and should – do more

In an ideal world, where we would be fully prepared for the majority of predictable hazards, there would be limited need for disaster response because a hazard would have limited impacts. EWEA is a piece of the puzzle that can help address residual risk, but not the whole puzzle.

With the Early Warnings for All initiative likely to receive a lot of attention over the next few years, are there ways that we could be use the opportunity not only to improve EWEA in and of itself, but also to find ways to use the entry point and benefits of EWEA to improve disaster risk reduction, longer-term resilience and climate change adaptation?

EWEA has gone a huge way in breaking down barriers, increasing our use of climate and weather information, increasing collaboration among diverse actors, and shifting us towards a culture of pre-disaster early action. Is it enough to stop here? A clear next step in these discussions and our efforts could be towards leveraging the contribution of EWEA towards disaster risk reduction, disaster resilience and development. If we want to achieve this, then we need to start aligning our efforts and messaging to this ambition.

The humanitarian community could situate our work better within the broader disaster risk management continuum. But to achieve this, we would need to change our mindset and viewpoint: not using the humanitarian response as the starting point for dealing with disasters and climate change, but figuring out how we fit into broader development aims, and framing our approaches and ambitions accordingly.

We are hoping to see this discussed and debated more within the anticipatory action community of practice. Let’s continue this at the Global Dialogue Platform!

This blog was written by Mirianna Budimir, Practical Action, and Dorothy Heinrich, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. 

Hot off the press! Read the briefing 'The role of early warning early action in minimizing loss and damage' here.

Photo: Heat Action Day in Bangladesh, June 2023. © Bangladesh Red Crescent Society