Every year, around 230 million people are struck by disaster. However, aid funds tend to be distributed only once many people have already lost everything. Welthungerhilfe’s approach is to take action based on predictions, intervening before a natural disaster causes hunger, property damage, and deaths.
Forecast-based Action (FbA) is an innovative approach to humanitarian aid. It means that we aim to provide assistance even before an impending natural disaster causes damage. Through detailed risk and threat analyses, we can predict extreme weather events and enable people to make timely decisions on matters essential to their survival. Within the humanitarian sector, terms like anticipatory action and early warning, early action are used synonymously.
Forecast-based action through scientific data
Based on comprehensive data analyses, Welthungerhilfe (WHH) works with scientific partners to develop forecasting models that can predict natural disasters and their effects on the local population. For example, analyzing past droughts and their effects can allow local risk factors to be identified, and early warning indicators can be recorded and monitored (one indicator for droughts is the soil moisture content for crops during the growing season). Historical drought analyses make it possible to determine a critical threshold that heralds a drought.
If this threshold is crossed, it triggers an early warning, which automatically puts predetermined disaster response plans into motion and releases funds for early intervention. These disaster response plans, called Early Action Protocols, establish in advance of a crisis how aid funds will be used and what the various roles and responsibilities will be. Funding for aid measures is also determined beforehand with donors like the German Federal Foreign Office. This process ensures rapid and efficient assistance even before a humanitarian disaster can develop.
Forecast-based Action at Welthungerhilfe
Early Warning of Droughts in Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Kenya
With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, we are working together with the local population and disaster relief authorities in Madagascar, Kenya, and Zimbabwe to develop regional forecasting models that can predict a drought and discover in which regions people’s food security will be affected. If an early warning is sounded, disaster response plans with aid measures are automatically activated, for example providing affected people with cash transfers that enable them to purchase provisions in time or to bring their livestock to safety. Welthungerhilfe’s Forecast-based Action program aims to enshrine early action as the humanitarian aid sector’s standard approach to droughts.
Pakistan: Acting Based on Predicted Droughts, Floods, and Heat Waves
Since 2017, Welthungerhilfe has been fulfilling two administrative roles, one in the Start Network in Pakistan and another in Pakistan’s Disaster Risk Financing Programme, working in co-operation with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to develop early warning systems for a variety of natural hazards and to establish or maintain disaster response plans for droughts, floods, and heat waves in especially risky areas. In early 2019, local member organisations of the Start Network in Pakistan sounded a timely warning and, using the released aid funds, informed the residents of the megalopolis of Karachi how to protect themselves from extreme heat.
Joining the Anticipation Hub and Strengthening Local Actors
Proactive (anticipatory) humanitarian aid and localized approaches must become the two new paradigms of the humanitarian aid system. To this end, we are working with the Anticipation Hub to improve how local actors co-ordinate and co-operate in preparation for a natural disaster. The Anticipation Hub is a platform that promotes communication and joint learning between stakeholders like governments, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), NGOs, UN organizations, researchers, and other actors. At the civil-society level, support for proactive approaches by NGOs can play a significant role in the strengthening and local adaptation of anticipatory humanitarian aid.
Forecast-based Action by WHH in north-eastern Madagascar
More information and guidelines on the Forecast-based Action program in Madagascar.
In 2021, Forecast-based Action tackling drought was employed in Madagascar for the first time to prevent food insecurity in the Alaotra-Mangoro region in the district of Ambatondrazaka.
By that point, the soil moisture content for upland rice, the staple food in the region, had reached a critical threshold during the growing season. This threshold indicated an impending drought and subsequent crop failures. In light of this economic threat, WHH made cash transfers to 1,500 especially vulnerable households for a period of six months. In total, this effort reached 7,500 of the most vulnerable people. The direct cash transfers enabled the families to stockpile supplies for the event of a crop failure or to purchase additional food on an ongoing basis, depending on each family’s needs. Cash-based assistance also helps to prevent households from resorting to negative coping strategies that would be detrimental to the families’ welfare in the long term, like stopping the payment of school fees, preventing children from attending school, or selling crucial livestock and equipment.
Insured against the risks of climate change
As part of the anticipatory approach, the provision of funds to finance disaster response plans is supplemented by climate risk insurance. This involves predetermined insurance settlements being paid out when early warning indicators reach contractually stipulated, critical thresholds.
However, due to the high insurance contributions required, insurance-based approaches are used only for relatively rare extreme droughts. As a member of the Start Network and an active participant in its committees and expert panels, WHH supports the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Replica insurance approach.
Anticipatory action instead of reactive emergency aid
WHH is the first German non-governmental organization to pursue Forecast-based Action. These anticipatory approaches to humanitarian aid are fundamental to WHH’s work. In conjunction with capacity-building measures for the local population and with disaster risk reduction and emergency aid planning, this approach helps us to reduce the impact of crises and disasters, thereby guarding the people living there against emergencies.