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Early Warning Early Action

Early Warning Early Action

A new focus on acting early

Evidence shows that the frequency and intensity of climate-driven natural disasters and conflicts is increasing. Natural disasters are occurring nearly five times as often compared to 40 years ago, with great costs to local economies, livelihoods and lives. Expanding needs, competing priorities and scarce resources globally mean that new tools are needed to ensure smart, effective investments to help attenuate the impact of disasters before they occur.

FAO’s Early Warning Early Action (EWEA) System translates warnings into anticipatory actions to reduce the impact of specific disaster events. It focuses on consolidating available forecasting information and putting plans in place to make sure FAO acts when a warning is at hand.

Acting early before a disaster has actually happened or reached its peak is critical: it can save lives and protect livelihoods from the immediate shocks as well as protecting longer term development gains by increasing the resilience of local communities over time.

The international community has formally committed to moving progressively towards a more ‘anticipatory’ approach in humanitarian assistance, with its most recent endorsement at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). In the lead up to the WHS, both the UN Secretary General and the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing stressed the critical importance to shift the focus from response to prevention and mitigation and to recalibrate financing modalities accordingly.

How the system works

Global EWEA

Advocacy and partnerships. At global level, FAO has a number of strategic partnerships with humanitarian, development and scientific organisations who are doing pioneering work in linking early warning analysis with early action and funding. FAO closely collaborates with, among others, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Red Cross Climate Centre, World Food Programme and the German Red Cross.

FAO is an active proponent of EWEA at Inter Agency level. Together with OCHA, FAO co-leads an initiative to develop an Inter-Agency EWEA Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for El Niño/La Niña events.

Country level EWEA

At country level, the EWEA team works closely with country offices to develop EWEA systems tailored to the local context. These systems enable FAO to monitor major risks and to act early to mitigate its effects on the agriculture sector and livelihoods through an operational tool, the EWEA plan.

The EWEA plans are tailored to each country and are based on existing early warning systems to identify timely triggers for early actions. Early actions are identified for a definite time frame between an early warning trigger and the actual occurrence of a disaster: they differ from ‘early response’ as they occur before the disaster has happened and therefore sufficiently early to offset part or all of its impact. Examples can include interventions to protect assets and livelihoods against the impending shock (such as rebuilding riverbanks or repairing irrigation schemes) as well as prepositioning to ensure timely humanitarian assistance to those most in need (such as the preposition seeds or tools).

Acting early can mitigate the effects of disasters on communities, not only by saving lives but assets and livelihoods. In developing countries, significant parts of the population live beneath the poverty line, and those who live just above it can quickly be pushed back into poverty by shocks. Protecting vulnerable communities’ assets ensures these groups do not fall into deeper into the poverty trap and can withstand future shocks. Consequently, this translates into more resilient communities, and ultimately less people relying on emergency assistance. Acting early is therefore cost effective both for the communities as well as in terms of humanitarian response time and resources ultimately saved.

Across Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America, FAO has successfully implemented a range of EWEA projects to mitigate the impact of droughts, severe winters, animal diseases and forced migration. Timely support has proven to protect and empower communities, giving them the confidence to carry on or resume their livelihoods. To support his statement, FAO invested in generating key empirical evidence on the cost-effectiveness of EWEA. Current studies showcase that the Cost to Benefit ratio, which describes how much assisted households gained for every USD $1 invested, ranges from 3.5 in Kenya to 7.1 in Mongolia.

Early action funds

To enable early actions to quickly and efficiently mitigate disaster impacts at country level, FAO has established a dedicated Early Action Fund within the existing SFERA mechanism.

The Early Action Fund allows FAO country offices to rapidly access funds once the early warning triggers have been reached, indicating an impending disaster. The Fund is activated according to a set of precise criteria, including the likelihood and severity of the risk, FAO’s comparative advantage and capacity, the type and the timing of the Early Actions proposed among others. 

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