The future of humanitarian aid? Pilot program ends drought leading to hunger
Early intervention approach tested in Pakistan and Senegal unlocks aid for predictable and predicted extreme weather before communities suffer
When Pakistan’s Meteorological Department predicted a significant reduction in rainfall in the last months of 2020 and through 2021, humanitarian experts had rarely been so ready to respond.
For more than three years, practitioners worked with the University of Reading in the UK to develop an agricultural drought forecasting model for Pakistan. The aim was to use scientific modeling to inform early interventions and protect communities from climate shocks before they occur.
At the end of 2020, the model was deployed in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, drought-prone areas which are also the breadbasket of the country. Using high-resolution satellite images, the model was able to identify areas where winter wheat was not growing properly and trigger an alert for early intervention.
Pakistani NGOs had developed a response plan with local communities, identifying the kind of support they needed so that a poor harvest did not lead to hunger and scarcity.
Grant-based funding had been arranged with the UK and Dutch governments and by June, as the weather service increased its drought warning to severe, a nutrition program was already rolling out to schools and for mothers of young people. children.
This was the first use of a funding mechanism designed by Start Network, a coalition of more than 50 aid agencies and NGOs, for a new era of climate impacts.
Pakistan’s pilot project is scheduled to run until December. So far, the results show “a huge success,” Amjad Ahmad, a retired army officer and national network manager in Pakistan, told Climate Home News.
Fewer children have dropped out of school, people have not had to sell their cattle to buy food, and fewer people have migrated to cities in search of work.
For Ahmad, the bottom-up approach to the initiative was paramount. “This is probably the future of humanitarian aid,” he said.
Start Network’s mission is “to bring about change in the humanitarian sector” at a time when the demand for aid is exploding, Sarah Klassen, the network’s policy and advocacy advisor, told Climate Home.
Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that global temperatures would continue to rise until mid-century under all emission scenarios. This will lead to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, agricultural droughts and the proportion of intense tropical cyclones.
“Local communities want to adapt and mitigate climate risks, but the humanitarian community has been slow to catch up,” Klassen said.
The network was created out of the frustration of aid workers with the “begging bowl” approach of humanitarian aid whereby disasters must unfold before funds for the victims can be released.
Given the improvement in forecasting and risk information, Klassen said this wait-and-see approach has become “morally difficult to justify”. “We are responsible for acting on the basis of the information we have,” she said.
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Analysis from the UN’s Start-up Appeals Network suggests that at least 55% of crises are somewhat predictable, but less than 1% of funds are released for early action.
Its funding mechanism, to be launched around the COP26 climate summit in November, aims to address this imbalance and a funding gap of nearly $ 19 billion for humanitarian aid. The network is in talks with a number of donor countries, including the US, UK, EU and Germany.
In addition to Pakistan, the network is piloting the approach with the governments of Senegal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In each country, the network and its local partners identify the climate risks communities face such as floods, cyclones, droughts and heat waves. Local humanitarian groups then work with local communities to develop predictable crisis response plans.
They work with scientists to model the risks and determine what the trigger point for the response plan should be. This could be based on the moisture level in the soil or the growth rate of the staple crops.
The pre-established funding, through grants or insurance, is then quickly released. The network pools risks to use donor funds more efficiently, allowing money to be used where and when it’s needed.
There were cultural barriers to overcome. In Senegal, many people in vulnerable communities were reluctant to envision a negative future.
“So if you ask people what they would do if there was no rain for the next six months, many responded by saying ‘Oh God, such a thing does not happen'” , told Climate Home Amadou Diallo, country manager of the network in Senegal. .
Eventually, Diallo and his colleagues were able to figure out what the community might need and where the gaps were.
With funding from the German government, the Start Network purchased an insurance policy from the African Risk Capacity (ARC), an initiative championed by the G7 that helps African governments and humanitarian actors access affordable insurance. reduced, to fund the response plan.
In November 2019, forecasters sent an alert for a severe large-scale drought in Senegal.
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The ARC provided $ 10.6 million to Start Network – the largest early action investment ever received by civil society. The Senegalese government, which had also purchased a policy, received $ 12.5 million to cover losses due to crop failures.
Assistance was deployed in seven regions, supporting 335,000 people, with cash transfers, fortified flour and a hygiene and nutrition awareness campaign.
With clear plans in hand to deal with the drought, NGOs were better equipped to respond to the first wave of Covid-19 infections, which hit Senegal around the same time.
“It was a really complicated situation but we all knew what we were supposed to be doing and having the funds in place really made a difference in giving us access to the people,” said Diallo.
An internal assessment found that in June 2020, 86% of households reported receiving the cash distribution early enough to prepare for the lean season, and 85% said the quality or quantity of their food was ‘was improved. The number of people going an entire day without eating has declined, as has the number of children under 18 sent to work.
Diallo said this anticipatory approach to disaster response has meant the drought is not competing with the coronavirus pandemic for limited government funds.
The use of insurance to address loss and damage caused by climate impacts has already been controversial.
In 2017, ARC took nine months to pay $ 8.1 million to the government of Malawi when a state of emergency was declared following a drought, due to a flawed assumption about the type of crops they were producing. farmers cultivated.
At the time, Action Aid activists criticized the initiative for “stepping up an ill-informed rush to deploy insurance, overlooking better alternatives and the causes of structural vulnerability.”
Clare Harris, Technical Manager at Start Network, acknowledged the shortcomings of the model used in Malawi.
“Absoutely, [ARC] learned a few lessons, ”she told Climate Home. “More work was needed at the national level to make these models and data systems much more locally driven. “
Insurance is “not a silver bullet to tackle climate change,” said Harris, but it can be an effective tool when used “at the right time and for the right reason” such as severe disasters. don’t tend to happen more than once. in a decade.
However, scientists warn that extreme weather events that happened once every 10 years will happen more frequently in an overheated world.
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Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid International, told Climate Home that climate change is making many risks uninsurable, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.
“The insurance industry itself is beginning to recognize the limits of its compensation plans to cover weather disasters… as they become more frequent, intense or even inevitable,” she said.
ActionAid argues that insurance mechanisms place the financial burden on those least responsible for the climate crisis. Instead, he calls for debt relief and grant-based financing to help countries recover from climate disasters. “Billions could be raised through progressive taxes and by reinvesting fossil fuel subsidies into a just transition,” Anderson said.
Harris said Start Network will need to adapt its financial mechanism as more frequent and intense disasters increase the cost of protecting people.
“But the long and the short is we’re going to need more money,” Harris said. “And once you can start quantifying that, you can start to make a real case for adaptation finance,” which, she said, funding for early intervention cannot. to replace.