Putting people at the centre of early action: a Start Network position paper

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According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) World Humanitarian Trends 2017, the number of disasters triggered by natural and human-induced hazards continues to rise, due to a combination of increased vulnerability and climate change. Vulnerability to disasters is highest in lower-income countries, particularly in fragile, conflict-affected states characterised by weak institutions and extreme poverty. The Overseas Development Institute’s working paper “Disaster risk reduction in conflict contexts” reports that 58% of deaths from natural disasters occur in the top 30 most fragile states.

Whilst media attention invariably focuses on large-scale disasters, UNDRR Global Assessment Report attributes the majority of disaster losses in lower-income countries to smaller scale, recurrent events (floods, storms, landslides). In September 2019, Ms Mitzutori, Head of UNDRR reported:

"Large numbers of lower-impact events that cause death, displacement and suffering are occurring much more frequently that predicted."

Although a major concern for at-risk households, losses due to smaller emergencies are under the radar of national government agencies, under-reported in official disaster databases, and invariably have to be managed by affected communities without national or international assistance. This is particularly the case in fragile states where national /local government capabilities are weak and/or dysfunctional.

As disasters increase, the growing number of people in need of humanitarian assistance is placing greater demands on available resources. The solution in part lies in a shift to a more anticipatory system that support at-risk people to act early before a predicted hazard turns into a disaster, thereby reducing losses and the need for external assistance.

In 2013, the Start Network established the Start Fund with a focus on medium and smaller-scale emergencies. In 2016, the Start Fund Anticipation Window was created to enable its members to respond early to emerging crisis.

Between 2016-2019, the Anticipation Window allocated £3.7 million to implement 19 early action projects across Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean in response to a range of different hazards.

In January 2019, the Start Network commissioned an independent review of current forecasting and risk tools to inform the future implementation of Start Network anticipation work. Drawing on the findings of the review report,this working paper highlights critical issues and makes recommendations to put at-risk people at the centre of early action and build partnerships to drive a systemic shift towards an anticipatory humanitarian system.