The past three years have seen a series of global challenges that have had a fundamental impact on nations, their economies and their citizens. Despite being nearly three years since the onset of COVID-19, most countries are still on the path to full recovery. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a series of economic challenges with significant pressure on energy consumption and food production. These two events have also coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of climate hazards and, given the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimate of a global population of eight billion in November 2022, the need for anticipatory humanitarian action has never been greater.
This context outlines the importance of the key focus behind today’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR). Under the theme, ‘Early warning and early action for all,’ today is indeed an opportunity for all partners and stakeholders within the global humanitarian system to acknowledge the progress made towards disaster risk reduction through innovative crisis financing and anticipatory action, risk modelling and early warning mechanisms, which play a huge role in reducing loss of life and livelihoods, destruction of economies and the razing of basic infrastructure. It also highlights our need to strengthen and grow this provision in coming years by setting the target of ‘Substantially increasing the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to people’.
The threats facing populations in the Global South are complex. In many African countries that heavily rely on imports from Russia and Ukraine in particular, the war has further contributed to worsening economic challenges amidst unprecedented climate-related hazards such as flooding in South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Chad, prolonged droughts in the Horn and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa as well as man-made crises that include conflict in Ethiopia, the DRC and Togo. Other parts of the world have not gone unaffected either. Hheat waves and droughts in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia; floods in Las Vegas in the United States; hurricanes and tornadoes in the southern islands of Japan and parts of South Korea; and a record-breaking monsoon flood in Pakistan which submerged a third of the country claiming over 1,500 lives, are just a fraction of the numerous disasters taking place in recent months.
In addition, scientists are predicting that the world’s current infrastructure is not prepared for what is to come. According to a September 2022 report by PreventionWeb, the global knowledge-sharing platform for disaster risk reduction and resilience, the impact of climatic events and whether they turn into hazards depends in part on how prepared communities are. Rapid population growth, without accompanying infrastructure growth and development, exposes people to risks and vulnerabilities which have dire consequences should disaster strike. A struggling nation focused on overcoming its financial and economic challenges in order to take care of its ballooning population will most likely not have capacity to plan, finance and work towards disaster risk reduction.
Within the last 10 years, one organisation has made significant steps towards a new era of humanitarian action. Premised on the notion of decentralised power for increased humanitarian agility, Start Network has a membership of over 50 international, national and local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), a cohort of five regionally dispersed hubs and six incoming hubs and more than 7,000 partners operating in over 200 countries worldwide. This model enables the Network to continue undertaking groundbreaking initiatives using science, data, and strong collaborations.
Using available data on the trends of previous electoral outcomes and their associations with violence in Kenya, and in a bid to avert a repeat of 2008 and 2017 election violence, Start Network members raised an anticipatory alert this year, before the East African nation’s August general elections. Through strong coordination with the Government, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and national NGOs such as PACIDA, the Network organised community peace dialogues, provided food and non-food items, and held peace marches in high-risk areas, likely contributing to reduced tensions during and post elections.
In Uganda at least 29 people died and 5,600 people were displaced by flash flooding in eastern regions on 30 July 2022, when Rivers Nabuyonga, Namatala, Nashibiso and Napwoli burst their banks after a persisting downpour that lasted more than a week. This resulted in loosened soils, created a deluge of runoff water and mass waste, ultimately leading to a landslide in the mountain slopes. Start Network members raised a flood alert to address immediate community needs including WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene), food, shelter, tents and NFIs (non-food items). Mitigating this crisis quickly through the Start Fund (a fast, innovative crisis financing mechanism) ensured survivors were protected from intense cascading impacts of flooding.
One innovative initiative utilised by the Network is Start Ready, a global financing mechanism launched at COP 26 to provide pre-agreed funding at scale for predictable crises like droughts, flooding and heatwaves. The service marries a combination of ‘risk pooling’ principles to make funds stretch further, data modelling to anticipate disasters before they strike, and locally led humanitarian action to ensure the most vulnerable are reached.
Start Ready was activated in Zimbabwe, for instance, in May 2022, disbursing a pre-positioned sum of £471,271 GBP to support Bulilima, Binga, Bikita, Buhera and Mberengwa districts to mitigate drought, which had reached alarming thresholds to warrant the release of funding that month. As drought mitigation activities continue in the country, more livelihoods will be protected from devastating consequences.
Geraldine O’Callaghan, Development Director at the British Embassy in Harare, has expressed approval with how the contributions from the UK have been utilised in support of disaster risk reduction in Zimbabwe.
“I’m glad that the UK supports a range of disaster risk financing instruments in Zimbabwe, which offer predictable, rapid, pre-arranged finance to mitigate disaster. With UK funding, Start Network and Start Ready support NGOs to access disaster risk financing instruments, which alongside locally led contingency plans and delivery systems save lives and livelihoods after a disaster,” she said.
Mr. O’Callaghan added, “in Zimbabwe, the funding disbursed by Start Network will help families to still be able to meet their dietary requirements despite crop failures due to drought. Collectively, these instruments, in addition to the African Risk Capacity Government policy, improve the resilience of poor and vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe and across Africa.”
Programmes like the one in Zimbabwe highlight the potential of anticipatory action and its capacity to reduce the impacts of complex challenges facing the humanitarian sector. On the occasion of the commemoration of #DRRDay, Start Network pledges its continued committment to driving and catalysing the change urgently needed in the global aid system by transforming humanitarian action through innovation, early action, fast funding, and locally led action.
Start Network Disaster Risk Finance initiatives in Africa are made possible through funding from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German Development Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), The German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, IKEA Foundation, Irish Aid, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs