14 Sep 2021 , last updated 14 Sep 2021

Reflections on the High-level Humanitarian Event on Anticipatory Action

A High-level Humanitarian Event on Anticipatory Action, convened by OCHA and the Governments of Germany and the UK, took place on 9 September 2021. This brought together leaders from across governments, international financial institutions, the United Nations (UN) and civil society, who delivered powerful statements on their commitments to act to ahead of crises. Here, Sarah Klassen, Ben Webster, Jânio Dambo and LA Dimailig offer their personal reflections on what this event achieved – and what should happen next.

People walking through a drought landscape
Photo by UN OCHA

The High-level Humanitarian Event on Anticipatory Action was held last week. What were your main highlights from this event? 


Sarah: 

First off, I want to thank the UN and the Governments of Germany and the UK for convening this event. It was great to see the efforts to galvanise a collective push to act ahead of crises. As donors, the UK and Germany have been pioneering supporters of this work.  

One highlight was watching so many speakers move beyond the cost-effective arguments for anticipatory action and focus on the deeper moral argument. If we have the science and knowledge to anticipate crises, we have an obligation to act on that information. The reactive nature of our responses to crises, and the damage that this causes, is becoming harder to justify morally.  

I also appreciated the collaboration that went into this event. The drive to scale-up anticipatory action is breaking down organisational barriers and I think this event exemplified how governments, UN agencies, civil society and others are coming together to try to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.  

Ben:

Having followed the anticipatory action agenda for the past few years, and having participated in panel events and discussions on the relative merits of acting ahead of crises, it was very encouraging to hear ministers and the leaders of humanitarian organisations promoting the importance of these approaches. More governments are becoming aware of the potential benefits of early action, and we are starting to see a ‘shift in gears’ in terms of momentum and the prominence of this agenda. This will mean much more effective support can be provided to disaster-affected communities in the years to come. 

Jânio:

It is impressive to see such a big movement in commitments and the scale-up of investment in anticipatory action. Mozambique was one of the first pilots in which we tried to turn this idea of anticipatory action into practice, and it makes me proud to see how quickly and strongly the anticipation community has grown around the globe. Anticipatory action is becoming normality and that is what we have always worked towards. 


What were the most important outcomes, and did these meet your expectations? 


Ben:

Germany has committed to provide 5% of its humanitarian funding through anticipatory approaches in the next two years, and to reach €100m through anticipatory action by 2023 – that is a good lead.  

It’s also encouraging that the UK is keen to promote anticipatory approaches at COP26 as a way of adapting to the changing climate, and to assess levels of pre-arranged finance for action ahead of crises across all their Overseas Development Assistance. 

Nevertheless, we will need to secure more concrete commitments to enable the scale-up of these approaches in the months and years to come. One way that governments can make further commitments is to join the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership and to pledge under the partnership’s four ambitious targets. 

Sarah:

I agree with Ben in relation to the German Government’s commitment. Of course, we need to go further, but commitments to provide a certain percentage of funding to anticipatory approaches were a step in the right direction. 

It was interesting to see so many donors talk about their investments in data and early warning systems. Of course, risk information and early warning systems are critical to enable anticipatory action, and we need to make sure that local actors have the risk information that they need to act.  

However, there was a lot less emphasis on providing trigger funding: the money to implement anticipatory actions once triggers have been met. One colleague likened this to buying a Ferrari but not having access to a petrol station. What’s the point? If we build anticipatory systems but these systems don’t have the fuel to move, there is really no reason to invest and maintain these systems.  

Overall, I was hoping to see more concrete commitments to support anticipatory action. Christina Bennett, Start Network’s CEO, was right to challenge leaders that if the level of discussion, interest, research and side events on anticipatory action were any barometer for the level of real funding being channelled towards this approach, we would be in a very different place today.  


Anticipatory action is gaining traction as an effective and beneficial approach within the humanitarian sector. What are the next crucial steps to scale up further? 


Jânio:

We need to find robust coordination mechanisms that allow different anticipation actors to scale up in harmony – we need to break down siloes and start peer-developing our approaches on trigger development, and harmonize our financial instruments. We have focused on making forecast-based financing operational within our own organisations; now is the time to make it work at scale, and across the sector. That will require strong partnerships based on a collaborative spirit and trust. 

Sarah: 

I think this agenda needs to be advanced in more practical terms. For us, this means launching the Start Financing Facility, which will allow us to implement locally led anticipatory action at scale.  

It’s exciting to see how much traction anticipatory action is gaining. But I think this comes with risks, too. During the event, it was interesting to see so many different lenses being applied to the concept of anticipatory action: disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation, humanitarian, shock responsive development, etc.  

Of course, this work does sit in a nexus and we can’t be working in silos. But there is also the risk that the concept of anticipatory action means everything and then nothing. For me, anticipation is about acting on risk information using pre-agreed finance to try to reduce very real humanitarian impacts. 

Ben:

Last week’s event was encouraging in terms of seeing greater awareness and momentum towards anticipatory humanitarian action, but to create a truly ‘systemic shift’ internationally, and ensure these approaches are embedded for the long term, we need to see changes: in national policies and legislative frameworks; in global financial instruments, supported by multilateral development banks; and in early warning systems, which should be designed with ‘last mile’ delivery in mind.

This will help local communities to take the actions required in advance of shocks, through the provision of useful information. To achieve this, we will need to work across the climate, development and humanitarian communities more effectively. 


For many people in the humanitarian sector, the focus now switches to the COP26 in Glasgow. What are your hopes – or expectations – for this event, in terms of applying anticipatory action to increase people’s ability to cope with the impacts of climate disasters?  


LA: 

The next step for global and regional humanitarian communities is to translate commitments into actions. In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, this is evidenced by the incorporation of anticipatory action in the 2021-2025 Work Programme of the legally binding ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response. This empowers ASEAN Member States and the AHA Centre to do more anticipatory action, do it better, and do it together with more partners. 

Ben:

The Risk-informed Early Action Partnership has strong links to the climate agenda, and to the UK’s COP26 Presidency specifically. We are therefore hopeful that COP26 will provide a platform to reach a much more diverse group of stakeholders, including those not so familiar with the narrative around anticipatory humanitarian action.  

COP26 also provides an opportunity to really strengthen the links between the climate and humanitarian communities, and to start understanding how proactive risk management approaches can help us adapt to the changing climate. We hope to support partners to showcase their work in this area, and to inspire countless others with the transforming potential of turning early warnings into effective early action. 

Sarah: 

COP26 is a moment to acknowledge and advance the role that humanitarian actors must play in addressing climate risks. Anticipatory action is one of the practical ways that we can do this. At Start Network, our years of anticipatory action experience have allowed us to provide a model for how to do this: the Start Financing Facility. I would like to see concrete commitments come out of COP26 that enable us to implement locally led anticipatory action at scale. If that happens, it will all be worth it!  

Sarah Klassen is the Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Start Network. Jânio Dambo is the Early Action Coordinator for the FbF Southern Africa Programme, Mozambique Red Cross. Ben Webster is the Head of Secretariat at the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) Secretariat. LA Dimailig is the Assistant Director for Disaster Monitoring & Analysis at the AHA Centre. Their responses here are their personal views.