Opening Remarks by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the High-Level Event on Anticipatory Action, 9 September 2021


As prepared

Thank you, Heba. And thank you Minister Maas and Minister Cleverley for your leadership.

I’m very grateful to the Governments of the United Kingdom and Germany for cohosting this event.

Today is an opportunity to build on the important commitments made on anticipatory action at the G7 Summit in Cornwall, including hundreds of millions of dollars in new financing for early action, disaster risk reduction and insurance.

The General Assembly also recently adopted a resolution urging Member States to strengthen anticipatory approaches. I look forward to your commitments and pledges to turn that resolution into a reality.

I’ve only recently assumed the role of Emergency Relief Coordinator. But in my short time here, I can say two things with certainty.

First, donors are enormously generous in contributing to life-saving humanitarian assistance around the world. But second, I can already see that their generosity – your generosity – is being outpaced by needs, driven to conflict, extreme weather events, and disease.

I have seen this first-hand in my recent visits to Ethiopia, Syria and Afghanistan.

Climate-related shocks have become more frequent and more severe. They are compounding pre-existing vulnerability. They are increasing the number of people in humanitarian need and the cost of helping them. Soon we will gather in Glasgow at COP26 to confront the climate emergency and I hope that real progress can be made there.
But even now, there is work we can do. At least half of all humanitarian crises are foreseeable, and 20 per cent of them are highly predictable.

We can predict shocks like droughts, storms, floods and heatwaves with increasing precision, as well as many communicable disease outbreaks. We can act on these predictions to protect lives and livelihoods and save money by using robust forecasts and models, pre-agreed financing linked to pre-agreed actions.

This is what the evidence tells us, thanks to the pioneering work of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Start Network, FAO, WFP, and others.

This anticipatory approach cuts the costs of humanitarian response. It preserves people’s dignity. It allows for a faster recovery, protecting hard-won development gains.

And it is the right thing to do.

If we know that a flood is coming, we must help vulnerable people protect their lives and livelihoods instead of waiting to rescue them by boat.

We must give farmers drought-tolerant seeds instead of waiting for malnourished children to show up at a clinic.
The humanitarian system must be as anticipatory as possible, and only as reactive as necessary.

Together with partners, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is piloting collective anticipatory action at scale across the world.

Through our Centre for Humanitarian Data, OCHA is providing technical expertise to assess forecasts, validate models and design trigger mechanisms for anticipatory action frameworks.

In Bangladesh, within four hours of severe monsoon flood warnings in July last year, funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund helped communities to prepare. More people were reached at half the cost compared with past responses. People had more food available, they sold off less household assets when floods hit, and they recovered quicker.

The evidence that anticipatory action works is compelling. We must now shift from piloting it to fully and jointly integrating it in our work.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will make an important call to reinvigorate multilateralism.

The pooled funds, including CERF, IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, the Start Fund and the Country-Based Pooled Funds are important instruments of multilateralism and ideal funding tools for anticipatory action.

And our partners are critical in efforts to advance the anticipatory action agenda.

We are collaborating with the World Bank to avoid escalating food insecurity. The doubling of the Early Response Facility to $1 billion is extremely helpful.

The International Monetary Fund is also developing a new strategy for anticipating crises in the most fragile places.
And today, we will hear many powerful examples of how we can jointly get ahead of crises, including lessons learned.

I look forward to the discussion and to your commitments and pledges in support of scaling-up this very important agenda.

Thank you.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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