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Anticipatory Action

FAO is forging a way for a faster, more effective humanitarian system by shifting from disaster response to anticipation.

Anticipatory Action is driving a change in the way humanitarian and development actors are approaching predictable crises. The fact is, increasingly, we can predict disasters. Thanks to technological advances, early warning information is more accurate and readily available than ever before. These gains also come with the responsibility to act on them.

FAO has been a long-time advocate of anticipatory interventions and is one of the agencies spearheading the global paradigm shift towards more proactive approaches to predictable shocks, be they typhoons, droughts, the consequence of conflicts or economic crises.

Rebuilding is not only exhausting financially but physically and emotionally, too. The ripple effects of lost livelihoods are often hard to recover from. For a family that has no buffer to absorb a shock, the ability to keep a cow alive throughout a flood may secure the funds to keep their daughter in school. Elsewhere, a farmer who was able to protect their harvest from a drought will not be forced to take out crippling loans that will trap their family in a spiral of debt and hunger.

Anticipating a disaster and equipping communities with cash, seeds, tools or veterinary care ahead of time does more than preserve people’s food security and peace of mind -- it preserves their dignity, too. Importantly, by protecting families’ sources of food and income throughout a crisis, anticipatory actions help to preserve the progress communities have already made, from better nutrition to education, and make them more resilient to future shocks.

And because acting early is by and large cheaper than providing relief after a shock, it can ease the pressure on limited global aid budgets. This, in theory, means more people can receive life- and livelihood-saving support. How it all works

Anticipatory action means making smart, effective, and proactive investments that soften the blow of disasters. To make this possible, every anticipatory action system, no matter the context, is built with 5 key ingredients:

  • Crisis timelines: a tool to help understand the usual evolution of a hazard and its relative impacts on livelihoods.
  • Early warnings: a set of pre-selected, context-specific information points that are monitored to predict a crisis and to trigger action when a warning threshold is crossed.
  • Anticipatory actions: early, short-term disaster management interventions implemented as soon as a warning trigger is reached to prevent or mitigate the impact of a hazard.
  • Flexible financing: pre-identified resources to enable rapid action when warning triggers are reached. One example of flexible financing is FAO’s Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA)Anticipatory Action Window.
  • Evidence from the ground: Impact analyses, beneficiary interviews and return-on-investment studies that allow FAO and others to document, improve, and learn from anticipatory actions

A growing global partnership

FAO has several strategic partnerships with humanitarian, development, and scientific organizations who are sharing data and doing pioneering work in linking early warning analysis with anticipatory action and funding.

As a founding member of the Anticipatory Action Task Force, FAO closely collaborates with key partners to harmonize approaches, coordinate actions and advocate for a system-wide shift towards anticipation. The group consists of the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (IFRC), World Food Programme (WFP), UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) and the START Network.

Similar technical bodies have also been established in Asia and the Pacific, East Africa and Southern Africa to coordinate, technical knowledge and rigor in this fast-growing area. Among others, FAO is the co-lead with OCHA for coordinating early warnings and anticipatory action ahead of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes and is a key partner of the Risk-informed Early Action partnership.

The proof is in the results

The fact that Anticipatory Action saves human lives and livelihoods is reason enough to invest in it. But it also makes financial sense for the world of humanitarian aid and development to operate this way, since there is a growing need for crisis relief, and budgets struggle to keep up.

Since 2017, FAO has been collecting empirical evidence to showcase the importance of Anticipatory Action. These studies, which have been conducted from Sudan to Mongolia, show that for every USD 1 invested families can gain USD 7 in benefits and avoided losses. Of course, the benefits of these interventions go beyond money. Speaking to the communities and governments FAO has found anticipatory interventions can support resilience efforts, curb malnutrition, protect food security and provide a more dignified humanitarian model. And they ultimately ease the need for monumental relief and rebuilding operations in the wake of a disaster. 

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