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UN humanitarian chief to release up to $140M in CERF funds for anticipatory-action projects

Friday June 26, 2020
A food distribution to people affected by floods in Eljale, Somalia, May 2020. Credit: OCHA/Warsame
A food distribution to people affected by floods in Eljale, Somalia, May 2020. Credit: OCHA/Warsame

United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has agreed to allocate up to $140 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support a series of anticipatory-action interventions over the next 18 months, starting with $15 million in Somalia.

Somalia is facing a projected increase in humanitarian needs due to food insecurity, which has mainly resulted from the impact of the desert locust infestation, flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, as Mr. Lowcock has detailed in an article published today by The Economist, humanitarian assistance is typically provided only after a disaster is in full swing, although suffering is widespread by then.

As the UN humanitarian chief points out, it costs perhaps 50 times as much to save a child who is already suffering from malnutrition as it does to intervene earlier. He adds that it is four times cheaper to feed a goat than to replace one.

In 2019, OCHA supported the country team in Somalia in setting up a drought anticipatory action framework. Two other frameworks, for drought in Ethiopia and flooding in Bangladesh, will be finalized soon.

Even without drought, food insecurity in Somalia is projected to increase to 22 per cent of the population in a crisis state of food crisis (IPC3+) between July and September, exceeding the threshold for the anticipatory action pilot.

The framework in Somalia involves work at OCHA headquarters and at the country level in close cooperation with UN agencies, the World Bank, climate research centres, national authorities and other partners.

Each of the anticipatory-action frameworks includes an adequate coordination mechanism at the country level; thresholds/triggers for action; sets of activities to be implemented when thresholds are reached; and defining the parts of the plan that will be funded by CERF.

To maximize the approach’s impact, OCHA is engaging closely with the World Bank on the analytics, as well as the planning and release of finance. CERF funding would be complementary to Somalia Humanitarian Fund disbursements.

OCHA is also collaborating with the London-based Centre for Disaster Protection on the design of an independent evaluative learning component that will accompany the pilots throughout the planning, disbursement and implementation stages. Findings will feed into the decision-making regarding the further development of a CERF anticipatory action approach. 

As noted in the article in The Economist, Mr. Lowcock has been “championing early intervention in situations where data can reliably warn of impending crises and where a speedy response can make a big difference”.

In such cases, an anticipatory-action plan can be prepared in advance, involving a number of agencies as well as authorities on the ground.

The initial funding for anticipatory action in Somalia could make a big difference in the lives of Somalis, and to the future of anticipatory interventions. By proving that the concept works, Mr. Lowcock hopes to “change the whole mentality and mindset of dealing with predictable emergencies”.



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