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Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller – Opening remarks at the Humanitarian Networking and Partnerships Week event: Acting early on early action

News and Press Release
Originally published


International Conference Centre, Geneva, 6 February 2019

As delivered

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

It is a pleasure to be here today with you and to see so many colleagues and experts in attendance. I don’t need to tell you that each year, humanitarian organizations save and protect the lives of tens of millions of people caught up in crises across the world. But we must also note that humanitarian action is not always as fast as it should be, and needs are not always evenly met.

Even as record sums continue to be raised, we continue to see a stubborn gap between global needs and the resources for humanitarian response. Historically, donors have financed on average 60 per cent of what the United Nations asks for each year. So, what do we need to do better to address this funding gap?

To begin with, we need to think and act differently when it comes to humanitarian financing. Traditional funding models are no longer sufficient for the complex and protracted crises we face. We cannot wait until crises are visibly causing suffering and costing lives – we need to act early and invest in prevention. This should be our default position.

In order to make this shift, firstly, we need anticipatory and contingency funding, which can be deployed quickly. By tying funding to pre-agreed triggers and implementation plans, we can cut response times and costs, and – most importantly – reduce suffering and save lives.

There are many models and pilot schemes of this kind in operation. These include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ forecast-based fund; the Start Fund’s anticipation window; and the World Bank-UN Famine Action Mechanism, each of which is doing its part to transform humanitarian action.

OCHA is also exploring opportunities for both anticipatory funding and early action, through the Central Emergency Response Fund, or the CERF. Looking ahead, CERF will engage with countries much sooner based on forecasts, risk assessments and triggers. We recently adopted this approach for a regional allocation of US$10 million for Ebola emergency readiness in countries neighbouring the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And last year, when drought conditions were predicted in the Sahel, the CERF team analyzed drought and food security forecasts, and consequently the CERF allocated $30 million to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania. This enabled partners to bolster communities’ resilience by supporting livestock health and providing cash transfers to safeguard livelihoods.

OCHA is now developing a framework to support early action in slow onset droughts.

This brings me to my second point - the importance of robust risk monitoring and pre-agreed triggers. To get ahead of disasters, action triggers must be backed up by strong data and predictive analytics. Clearly, it would be much better and cheaper to act based on rational data triggers, rather than the emotional pull of annual or flash appeals.

About a year ago, OCHA and the Government of the Netherlands set up the Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague. I was at the Centre just last week, and it was clear that the Centre has already had an impact on the humanitarian landscape, helping to increase the use and availability of data in service of the whole humanitarian community.

The Centre is asking some hard questions. What new sources of data can we use to predict needs? Who can fill the gaps? How do we speed up the flow of data and its analysis?

To illustrate the value of data, let me turn to the example of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. In late 2016, FAO’s forecast-based financing model was used to reduce the impact of severe drought on pastoralists in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Response triggers were developed based on socio-economic, health and climate indicators, including milk production, stunting rates in children and soil moisture levels. An impact study of the intervention showed that for every $1 FAO invested in the project to keep livestock healthy, pastoralist households enhanced their income by $3.50.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

Early – and anticipatory – action require that we be ready to respond effectively.

Recognizing this, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Emergency Response Preparedness approach has helped ensure that UN Country Teams have sufficient capacity for preventative action based on risk monitoring and more rapid response. Last year, the IASC also adopted standard operating procedures for El Niño, which focus mainly on early action and emergency response preparedness.


To move forward, we need to analyze and share our findings and lessons learned so that we can scale up the best approaches.

OCHA is committed to contributing to these efforts and I look forward to working with each of you so that together we can move to a place where data-driven anticipatory response becomes the norm and a reality.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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