Submitted by Shanna McClain (NASA), Katharina Lorenz (GRC), and Kara Siahaan (IFRC)
2 Feb 2021 , last updated 2 Feb 2021

Enhancing anticipatory action through Earth Observations

Initiatives that explicitly link Earth systems science and humanitarian action are increasing in number. Many of these efforts have focused on damage assessment for crisis response, or supported decision-making for risk reduction. However, in order to enable communities to act  - and for the necessary financing to be triggered in the days or weeks prior to disaster - greater focus must be placed on the capabilities of Earth observations (EO) for improving predictions related to impact. For example, the World Food Programme and Red Cross Red Crescent partners use the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS), which develops hydrological models based on meteorological forecasts, to feed into the design of their forecast-based financing mechanism in Bangladesh to support communities at risk before the flood peaks cause severe impact. In Kenya, the Tropical Applications of Meteorology using SATellite data-Agricultural Early WaRning sysTem (TAMSAT-ALERT) is developing metrics and providing skillful forecasts early in key seasons to allow anticipatory action for drought.

Alongside these exciting developments in flood and drought, there is additional need to explore the application of Earth observation for anticipatory action across other types of environmental shocks and stressors. Further, there is also growing demand for expanding the scientific approaches and methodological rigor for testing the appropriateness of these actions. A critical first step in doing so includes bringing agencies and organizations together to share the data and methods they are using, to identify gaps and assumptions in evaluative models and policies, and work towards building a common analytical framework that incorporates accountability and learning. There has been an explosion in global innovation, and communities are finding new and innovative ways to use and manipulate technologies - from drones, to phones, to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Creative solutions are needed for harnessing this knowledge, and identifying ways to share, communicate, and sustain these capabilities across myriad environments and risks.

During the recent Global Dialog Platform session on “Leveraging Earth Observation for Anticipatory Action”, attendees from Red Cross National Societies, the World Bank, academia, and NASA identified a number of additional needs for EO in anticipatory action, including the ability of satellite data to bridge gaps in data from poor or failing weather stations, the need for open access to codes and methodologies in order to improve validation and reduce uncertainty, and the ability to improve connections between EO and environmental security concerns, including pandemics and migration and displacement. 

In response to these identified needs, the Anticipation Hub’s Working Group on Earth Observations for Anticipatory Action brings together diverse partners and practitioners to share their approaches to early action, to identify new opportunities for exploring Earth observations in the context of early action, and to create opportunities to pilot these activities. One of the first tasks of the Working Group will be to conduct a gap analysis to better understand the EO capabilities available for supporting early action to myriad disaster impacts. This includes identifying additional partners and programmes that can share lessons learned or good practices for the use of EO in anticipatory action. It is a goal of the working group that all activities are anchored to developing solutions for real-world challenges.

The activities of this Working Group are ambitious and require partners, ideas, and energy from across multiple sectors - not just Earth observations and humanitarian action - but also those who are interested in shifting focus from disaster response to anticipatory action and reducing the detrimental impacts on lives and livelihoods. The first meeting of the EO for Anticipatory Action WG will be held on February 8th, 1pm UTC - all are invited to join as we work to identify how to better leverage the networks and technologies of Earth observations for anticipatory action.

If you would like to participate please reach out to Shanna McClain ( or Katharina Lorenz (

NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens