13 Jun 2023

Strengthening Haiti's capacity to face floods and hurricanes with anticipatory action

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently hosted a workshop in Haiti to raise awareness of anticipatory actions that can reduce the risks associated with floods and hurricanes. Haiti has a long history of disasters caused by floods and cyclones and these are two of the most frequent forecastable hazards to affect the country. Haiti also suffers from limited capacity to cope with these hazards.

Haiti has experienced over 36 hurricanes and storms since 1954, and sae 65 major flood events between 1959 and 2022. Many caused devastating impacts, such as Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which affected over 2 million people; Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 (over 315,000 people affected); Hurricane Allen in 1980 (over 1.2 million people affected); and Hurricane Hazel in 1954 (over 250,000 people affected).

In addition to these, smaller-scale floods and tropical storms regularly cause significant damage and the loss of life. There were heavy rains and flooding in 2003, 2011 and 2012, as well as in June this year. These repeated events have had major negative repercussions for Haiti’s development and the well-being of its people. Damage to homes, infrastructure and crops can result in long-term economic impacts and leave people without access to essential services for extended periods of time.

In 2022, the INFORM annual report listed it as one of the countries with a very high-risk inform index and increasing risk trends; and according to the 2020 ND-GAIN score, Haiti is the ninth least-ready country globally. These assessments highlight the urgent need for investment and innovations to improve Haiti’s readiness for action.

The workshop, held on 4 to 5 May 2023 in Port-au-Prince, was convened by WFP in close cooperation with the General Directorate of Civil Protection (Direction Générale de la Protection Civile /DPGC) and the Hydrometeorological Unit of Haiti (Unité Hydrométéorologique d’Haïti / UHM). It aimed to initiate a technical reflection on how anticipatory action can mitigate the risks and impacts associated with predictable rapid-onset hazards in Haiti.

It was also an opportunity to establish the next steps for forecast-based anticipatory action for floods and hurricanes, through a consultative process involving 30 national stakeholders from 16 organizations, including representatives from government institutions, donors, civil society organizations, the Haitian Red Cross and UN agencies.

By bringing together the hydrometeorological and scientific community and those who respond to disasters and their risks, we have taken giant steps from forecasts that simply predict […] towards impact-based forecasts which predict what the weather will do.

With increasingly qualitative and accurate forecasting, more prompt and reliable information is being made available to the wider disaster management community to forecast the impact of natural shocks, allowing for anticipatory action to reach the most vulnerable before disaster strikes.

With the provision of this tailored information comes a renewed responsibility: to ensure the effective connection between forecasts and early warnings with impactful early actions.

Marcelin Esterlin Coordinator of UHM and permanent representative of Haiti to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The workshop began with opening remarks from Jerry Chandler, general director of DGPC, alongside Esterlin Marcelin, coordinator of UHM, and Marc Andre Prost, deputy country director for WFP Haiti. Following this, discussions revolved around some of the workshop’s main themes:

  • Recognizing the significance of anticipatory actions in Haiti. This comes partly from the country’s high exposure to hydrometeorological events. Moreover, increasing insecurity in the country has diminished the population’s capacity to adequately prepare for and cope with these extreme events, leading to widespread destruction and higher costs for the government and its partners.
  • Emphasizing the importance of integrating anticipatory action throughout the disaster risk management (DRM) cycle. This will safeguard the long-term gains achieved through mitigation and prevention efforts to strengthen disaster preparedness and emergency response capabilities.
  • Identifying specific activities that align with current response interventions as potential anticipatory actions.  Discussions highlighted the effectiveness of anticipatory cash transfers, preferably based on the minimum expenditure basket. Social protection schemes, particularly the ongoing work towards a shock-responsive system, were identified as a favourable entry point for implementing cash-based actions.
  • Emphasizing the need for capacity building as a fundamental aspect of future work. Ensuring the same level of understanding among all partners, from national to local levels, will be crucial. For example, national guidelines for anticipatory action will help to harmonize the involvement of different stakeholders. The organization of a simulation exercise was also proposed as a way to demonstrate how anticipatory action works and can be effectively integrated within the DRM system.

Through these discussions, the workshop aimed to lay the groundwork for further progress towards implementing anticipatory action in Haiti and integrating this approach into the national DRM cycle.

At the beginning, [anticipatory action] seemed something that we already do. Understanding better the approach… brings something that can really help the communities. [DGPC’s] presence here explains the value that we give to working with our partners. If there is some action that benefits the population, it’s worth adopting it in the system; … this is why DGPC is here today, to keep working to support the resilience of our population.

Emmanuel Pierre Director of operations, DGPC

The anticipatory action workshop in Haiti

At a recent workshop, partners discussed how to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events, and how to become more climate- and shock-sensitive.

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This article was written by Silvia Pieretto, climate adaptation and risk financing officer, WFP Haiti.

The forecast-based anticipatory action project in Haiti is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by WFP. It draws synergies with other ongoing projects on emergency preparedness, response and early warning. Other anticipatory action projects in Haiti are being established by Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and Humanity and Inclusion. These actors are promoting the establishment of a national community of practice to support a shared understanding of, and coordinated approach to, anticipatory action in the country, as well as to facilitate the involvement of new interested parties.

The shock responsive social protection project is led by the MAST and implemented by WFP with funding from the World Bank.