Submitted by Kara Siahaan, Lead Network and Policy, Anticipation Hub|Coordinator EA&DRF, IFRC
11 Feb 2021

Reshaping and Rethinking Anticipatory Action: learning from 2020

During the first months of 2020, all the attention was on – and rightly so – containing the spread and responding to the direct impacts of COVID19. Some of us working on designing new anticipatory action plans and activities were told to put things on hold. Disasters, unfortunately, do not stop for any major events. Not even for a global pandemic. While battling coronavirus, 54 million people worldwide faced weather-related disasters last year. So, we kept ourselves busy.

Here is what we learned:

#1 – It is never more necessary to act early!

The humanitarian needs emerging because of lockdown measures, and its resulting economic implications are extensive, especially to those who are already suffering from multiple vulnerabilities. By establishing systems, plans and pre-arranged financing well in advance to act early before a hazards’ impact, anticipatory action provides a cushion for at-risk communities to anticipate and protect themselves against the compounding risks of multiple events happening at the same time.

Managing the risk of COVID-19 in evacuation centres to provide safe shelters for 2.4 million people was a complex task, but the long-established Cyclone Preparedness Programme – a joint programme of the  Government of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society – was able to do just that ahead of Cyclone Amphan in May. It did so by ordering additional safety measures to be added on top of existing plans that leverages impact-based forecast, reliable early warning system, institutionalized arrangements and a huge network of volunteers. Two months later, Bangladesh was hit again by severe flooding driven by a prolonged and intensified heavy monsoon season and high upstream water levels. Building on the forecast-based financing expertise and experience of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, German Red Cross, IFRC, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and WFP from the past 5 years, UN agencies (OCHA, WFP, FAO, UNFPA) and Red Cross Red Crescent partners were able to act ahead of two flood peaks in the last monsoon season. Funded by the IFRC Forecast-based Action by the DREF, WFP funds (Germany and Korea) and the UN Central Emergency Fund, the combined efforts protected the lives, livelihoods, and dignities of 274,000 people through unconditional cash transfers, livestock protection and provision of hygiene kits. By the end of 2020, IFRC, FAO, WFP, OCHA and the START Network are actively working in over 60 countries to develop anticipatory action for hydrometeorological hazards, conflict, displacement, and disease outbreaks.

#2 – The way to do “more and better” is by working “together”.

#MoreBetterTogether has become the anticipatory action 2020 slogan. If you attended the anticipatory action events such as Humanitarian Network and Partnership Week, ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment, Climate: RED or the Dialogue Platform on Anticipatory Humanitarian Action, chances are you have noticed these three words included in event titles, spread across concept notes, or spoken about by heads or senior representative of agencies in one form or another. FAO, IFRC, OCHA, WFP and START Network as key players have indeed come together to jointly support this collective ambition to scale up, to reach more people, cover more geographic areas, design more impactful actions and apply anticipatory action to a wider variety of hazards. Through the Anticipatory Action Task Force (formerly called “Early Action Focus Task Force”) the five organizations are working on jointly promoting the scale up of anticipatory action by providing technical guidance, generating evidence, and building synergies with relevant initiatives. These principles are not just theories. This year, they have been put into practice in the planning and implementation of anticipatory action in places where more than one partner (in the task force) is working in a country, as in the case for Bangladesh, Mongolia and Ethiopia to name a few.

2020 saw a groundswell of anticipatory action activities generated by establishment of the Risk Informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) and the Anticipation Hub. Launched by the German Red Cross, IFRC and the Climate Centre, the Anticipation Hub is a knowledge exchange platform to support and enable more evidence-based anticipatory action on the ground for the wider humanitarian sector supported by the German Federal Foreign Office. REAP compliments the Anticipation Hub by creating a space in which partners and organizations contribute towards achieving ambitious targets, that mobilise commitments and inspire action at scale. These initiatives do not only support the scale up anticipatory action, but also promote synergies between the humanitarian, climate, and development communities.

Source : IFRC World Disasters Report 2020

#3 – We are learning a lot, but there’s much more to be done.

Over 20 high quality reports, studies and papers on anticipatory action were published in 2020 by various organizations. Among them were the Agenda for Expanding Forecast-based Action to Situations of Conflict, The Evidence Base on Anticipatory Action, Anticipatory Action for Livelihood Protection, and the Future of Forecasts: Impact-based Forecasting for Early Action. After its first release four years ago, the German Red Cross launched the revised digital Forecast-based Financing Manual with methodology and tools that have been updated through continuous feedback from actual project implementation. Through the Anticipation Hub, new thematic working groups are being established to explore emerging themes such as the application of earth observation for anticipatory action (NASA and German Red Cross) and disaster risk financing (InsuResilience and IFRC).

Most of the learning materials released last year were developed before the COVID19 pandemic began. It is important to also see how the principles of anticipatory action could be applied in the current COVID19 context. We did know enough about the potential humanitarian and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic when it started, but now we know much more. Through scientific assessments, scenario building and better understanding of crisis timelines, we can further apply our principles, lessons and tools to reduce the impact and prevent further deterioration unleashed by COVID19. You can read more about this topic in the featured blog from OCHA.

#4 – We must turn challenges into opportunities.

With countries in lockdown, borders closed, and international staff repatriated out of duty of care, humanitarian aid was put on a halt in many places. While these conditions brought challenges in the deliveries of overseas assistance, it has pushed the anticipatory action community to adapt in positive ways.

Thanks to in-country leadership and the years of collaboration between the UN and Red Cross Red Crescent partners in Bangladesh, the monsoon flood anticipatory action planning process facilitated by OCHA was completed in just three months. From the global and regional levels, the planned in-person workshop was transformed into weekly virtual meetings that stretched between Dhaka, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Rome, Geneva, and New York. This plan was approved in time and led to the fastest CERF allocation in history, enabling a massive scale up of anticipatory action despite of COVID19. At the core of this success is partner agencies’ coming to the pilot with a “common purpose to scale up an innovative pilot aiming to protect the dignity, lives and livelihood for people in poverty and to learn from and build evidence on the approach”.

The Dialogue Platforms on Anticipatory Humanitarian Action have become the annual meeting of the tribe for the growing community of anticipatory action scientists, practitioners, and policy makers. It was not a surprise that many were disappointed by the announcement that – like everything else – the meeting had to go virtual. Yet by going virtual, the organizers were able to push the boundaries in developing a truly interactive and inclusive format. The platforms were made accessible to many more people than ever before. 1,500 people joined the Regional (Asia Pacific and Africa) and Global Platforms. The platform has “reinvented how events can be designed, delivered, and experienced” while saving carbon footprint at the same time!

“A year like no other” – is the tagline of 2020. It has indeed been a year like no other. It was a year where we were humbled by our own recognition of just how fragile we are in this interconnected world where a strain of virus has caused not only deaths, but crippled economies, closed borders and created a sense of isolation for too many. The same “year like no other” has also generated an immense surge of solidarity across the world, forced us to rethink of a better model that is suited for the future, inspired us to have higher standard inclusivity and equitability, and heightened the sense of purpose to come together as a community. Let’s apply our learning from last year to continue our efforts to scale up efforts and welcome a growing network of do-ers and supporters of anticipatory action.


By Kara Siahaan – Lead, Network and Policy – Anticipation Hub | Coordinator, Early Action and Disaster Risk Financing, IFRC