Kenya + 4 more

Preparing for the 2015-2016 El Niño: Humanitarian Action in Zambia, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi

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Executive Summary

The Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to conduct the following study of humanitarian preparedness measures for the 2015–2016 El Niño event in five countries: Zambia, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi. Chapters 2–6 of this study detail country-level measures to prepare for potential El Niño related impacts. Chapter 7, addresses the challenges to and benefits of early action as experienced by two organizations working in Somalia and Kenya. Based on common themes trending across the case studies, Chapter 8 provides recommendations to improve preparedness actions, before a potential disaster, following El Niño forecasts in the future. The study concludes with Chapter 9, which provides detailed recommendations.

Summary of Case Study Findings

Organisations operating in all five countries found El Niño event messaging and associated forecasts to be timely and credible. Not surprisingly, downscaled forecasts that include detailed descriptions of potential impacts across sectors are considered more useful than vague seasonal forecasts (above normal, normal, below normal precipitation). Informants also noted that the gradual accumulation of information from many sources is more important than any one warning or source. Stakeholders expressed a desire for better information (see Chapter 9), but that did not hinder early action. What enabled or impaired early action by organizations in each country was not information but the strength of coordination mechanisms, funding mechanisms, the nature of the hazard, access to forecast experts or intermediaries and the political climate.

Nearly every organization used forecasts to update its internal and national contingency plans (often using data from analogue years to anticipate potential impacts). In many cases, organizations had contingency plans but were not able to fully execute them for lack of funds.

While organizations could access impact data from analogue years, they did not have access to forecast experts or intermediaries. This was another oft-touted challenge. Stakeholders desperately needed and requested help to interpret forecasts, anticipate impacts, and plan for action. Unfortunately, these resources were scarce.

Initial El Niño forecasts triggered the first stages of response; they allowed humanitarians to begin contingency planning. As seasonal forecasts became more relevant (localised), organizations would gradually escalate their response accordingly. The most common response to forecasts was pre-positioning staff and supplies.

Informants from every country credited access to flexible funding and programme modification with their organization’s ability to act sooner. In particular, crisis modifiers empower organizations to modify existing programmes and take action more urgently.

Because uncertainty is inherent in forecast predictions, organizations and donors are adopting a no-regrets approach to forecast-based early action. No-regret activities are those that will build resilience or provide valuable benefits regardless of whether or not a disaster occurs. No-regret actions based on forecasts can, therefore, reduce potential, negative, political consequences of acting based on a forecast.

Of the countries in this study, only Kenya successfully used their existing safety net system to deliver timely aid in response to forecasts. This is likely because, unlike Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Zambia had not developed protocols for scaling their systems in response to forecasts (or climate shocks) in advance. If social protection is to be a mechanism for quickly delivering emergency aid, the work of registering beneficiaries, verifying bank accounts, and coordinating donor funding is imperative before there is an immediate need.