Acting Before the Flood: An Anticipatory Humanitarian Action Pilot in Bangladesh, March 2021

Originally published


Patrick Moser
This synthesis report is based on documents and research produced by OCHA and its partners.

Anticipatory action to mitigate the humanitarian impact of monsoon flooding in Bangladesh in July 2020 reached more people, faster and at half the cost of a regular response.


As crises become more complex and protracted, a major concern among the humanitarian community is to ensure finite funding goes further and faster. This requires innovative approaches.

One concept that has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years is to provide support ahead of a predictable crisis, rather than wait for the damage to be done.

Major improvements in data and predictive analytics mean that in many cases, we can forecast when disaster will strike, making it possible to plan, fund and deliver assistance in advance. That is the case in Bangladesh, where, in an average year, monsoon rains inundate about a quarter of the country – equivalent to the size of Germany – and where flood forecasting is well established.

“Clearly, it would be much better and cheaper to act based on rational data triggers, rather than the emotional pull of annual and flash appeals, which tend to have their biggest effect only when enormous suffering is already on display.” Mark Lowcock, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Casement Lecture, March 2018.

Traditional humanitarian responses remain critical. In 2020, they reached some 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with life-saving assistance.1 But there is a growing consensus that anticipatory humanitarian action, where it is possible, can be faster and cheaper. And because it empowers people to protect themselves on their own terms, it is more dignified.

That was the thinking behind OCHA’s decision to facilitate an Anticipatory Humanitarian Action Pilot ahead of the 2020 peak monsoon floods in Bangladesh.

Under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator (RC), and building on previous experience by WFP, the Red Cross/Red Crescent and others, the objective of this pilot was to achieve a more effective, timely and dignified humanitarian response for beneficiaries in anticipation of severe monsoon flooding of the Jamuna River in five highly vulnerable districts in Bangladesh.

It was later agreed to expand the pilot in 2021, drawing from the lessons learned.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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