1 Aug 2022

How does anticipatory action contribute to building resilience?

The immediate aim of anticipatory action is to anticipate disasters and reduce their impacts, particularly in terms of human suffering and losses. But do investments in this approach also play a role in building a more resilient future for the people affected?

While there is evidence on the immediate impacts of anticipatory action in reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods, more evidence is needed to better understand its longer-term impacts, especially how acting early contributes to building the resilience of households and communities. This blog shares some of the lessons learnt to date in Bangladesh about how anticipatory action, especially cash-based actions, can help to building resilience.

What is the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement doing?

As one of the first agencies to implement anticipatory action in the country, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society – with support from the German Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre – has developed and tested different models for cyclones, floods and heat waves. Early actions, including cash-based assistance, early warnings, awareness messages, evacuations and first aid, have been successfully tested and integrated into early action protocols (EAPs) for each of these hazards.

What do we know so far – and what do beneficiaries have to say?

After each activation of an EAP, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society evaluates the impacts and effectiveness of the early actions. These investigations have revealed that while the main aim of cash-based interventions is to help beneficiary households protect themselves and their assets ahead of a hazard striking, cash also contributes – both directly and indirectly – to building their resilience.

By protecting livelihoods and assets, anticipatory action contributes to resilience. In the post-hazard period, households often resort to negative coping mechanisms such as selling household and livelihood assets and taking out crippling loans. This pushes them towards even greater vulnerability and can trap them in the vicious cycle of increasingly negative impacts after recurring disasters.

However, an evaluation of anticipatory actions ahead of floods in 2020 showed that recipients of cash-based early actions were less likely to borrow money or sell household assets compared to those who didn’t receive support; there was a 12 per cent difference between these two groups. It was also evident that cash support helped people to protect their livelihood assets, particularly cattle and poultry. For example, cash contributed to beneficiaries experiencing fewer livestock deaths and losses, with losses of cows and calves 13 per cent lower, and loss of chickens 10 per cent lower. This meant that recipients were better placed to recover from the negative impact of the floods, as they could quickly rebuild their income from these assets.

Mr Babor Ali, a 40-year-old fisherman, experiences flooding almost every year and has had to shift his house several times. During the lean season, he often finds it difficult to get work. One year, he had no savings and was forced to take out a high-interest loan from a moneylender. As part of an anticipatory cash-based intervention, he received 4,500 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT; 46 around euros). After assessing future needs with his family, they invested 4,000 taka (41 euros) in buying a fishing net. This has become a steady source of income, earning around 500 BDT (5 euros) a day. Mr Ali is now able to better support his family; for example, he was able to pay for his son’s education.

Cash grants are used to improve house structures. Many of the recipients in Bangladesh invested part of their cash grant in strengthening their houses and secure their household assets.

Ms. Anguri, 40, lives with her husband and two daughters on a char island of the Jamuna River. With the cash she received through the anticipatory actions ahead of floods, she bought food for her family and reinforced the roof and walls of their house. This helped to protect the house from being damaged in this and future floods, meaning less investment will be required in the future.

Beneficiaries use cash to create community resources. The evaluation also demonstrated that some cash recipients invested their money to create resources that not only helped them, but also their neighbours. Often, these tackled longstanding issues.

Mr Hoque, 55, has no fixed income. After receiving 4,500 BDT (46 euros) as a cash grant ahead of floods, he bought enough food for a week, which was an urgent need at that time. But during a flood, sources of drinking water often get contaminated due to inundation. Aware of this, he invested 3,000 BDT (31 euros) in installing a tube well with a raised platform. This is now a source of drinking water not only for his family, but also for his neighbours.

How does anticipatory action contribute to policy frameworks for building resilience?

These examples highlight how anticipatory action can build resilience at the household and community levels. But this approach – when applied at scale – could also contribute to achieving the commitments mandated under numerous global and regional policy frameworks that aim to build people’s resilience in the face of disasters. For example, Target G of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 - 2030 aims to “substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems”, as well as increase “understanding [of] disaster risk” and “investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience”; these are all key ambitions of anticipatory action as well. Anticipatory action can also contribute to Target A (“substantially reduce global disaster mortality”) and Target B (“substantially reduce the number of affected people”).

Indeed, anticipatory action is already being explicitly listed in some regional frameworks that seek to build resilience. For example, in the ASEAN Framework on Anticipatory Action in Disaster Management, anticipatory action is mandated as a way to “[secure] a climate-resilient future” for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The way forward

The evidence from Bangladesh indicates that anticipatory action can build the resilience of vulnerable households and communities; as such, it is an investment in a more resilient future. However, it is based on limited research. More studies are needed to produce empirical evidence in this area. These should capture the direct impacts (e.g., support for livelihoods and livelihood assets) and longer-term indirect impacts (e.g., the evacuation of moveable assets, leading to less damage and fewer losses) of anticipatory action.

This blog was written by Sheikh Khairul Rahaman, anticipation delegate at the German Red Cross