World Food Programme: Emergency response and preparedness - October 2019
WFP is first to respond to emergencies caused by conflict, climate shocks, pandemics and other disasters.
We provide food, cash and other assistance where people have been left destitute and at risk of going hungry. Our focus is also on emergency preparedness, working with partners to provide early warning and helping communities lessen the impact of looming disasters.
Our largest emergency response is in Yemen, with ongoing conflict causing one of the world’s worst hunger crises, while in Syria we are assisting millions of people displaced by the ongoing civil war. Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan are among other countries where WFP is assisting those affected by violence and insecurity.
Our response can include a combination of food, cash, nutrition supplements and school feeding. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, another country where conflict and hunger fuel one another, WFP is also helping to contain an Ebola outbreak by providing food and logistical services.
Our engineers are critically important in emergency response. When thousands of Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, our engineers created safe, level land at Kutupalong camp to lessen the threat posed by monsoons. This was in addition to the food assistance provided by WFP.
A rapidly increasing number of climate shocks also demand swift and decisive responses. When Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique and floods washed away an estimated 400,000 hectares of crops in early 2019, WFP deployed quickly to provide food as well as vouchers for people to buy vital supplies, while also planning recovery, reconstruction and resilience-building activities. We also restored vital communications networks to accelerate the response by government and humanitarian partners.
WFP coordinates responses to large-scale emergencies on behalf of the wider humanitarian community. We lead the Logistics Cluster which stores and transports urgent relief items to disaster zones, and the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster which sets up or restores connectivity in the most remote areas. We also deploy WFP staff via our Fast Information Technology and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team.
WFP manages the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, or UNHAS, which ensures staff and vital supplies from across agencies and NGOs can be deployed rapidly to the most remote and otherwise inaccessible locations.
In Yemen, the closure of Sana’a airspace to international flights made UNHAS the only common air service available to humanitarian organizations. In South Sudan, WFP has airdropped food to vulnerable communities in hard-to-reach areas for the past six years.
WFP also manages the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot, a global network of hubs that procures, stores and rapidly transports emergency supplies for the wider humanitarian community.
Inter-Agency support and coordination is in fact critical to our approach, from joint vulnerability assessments with UNHCR for refugees in Syria, to setting up rapid response teams with UNICEF and NGOs in South Sudan and Nigeria.
A large focus of our work is on preparedness and helping countries to counter the worst effects of pending emergencies.
Data gathering is key to responding to emergencies caused by conflict and extreme weather. In Bolivia – the South American country most prone to climate shocks – drones collect hundreds of acres worth of information on factors such as reservoir levels, so contingency measures can be taken for people and their livestock.
Targeted geospatial analyses show the immediate impact of natural disasters and allow for a faster response matched to needs. Our Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools such as ADAM (Automatic Disaster Analysis & Mapping) provide 24/7 mapping of earthquakes and tropical cyclones. When flash floods struck Jordan in 2018, WFP used GIS to produce a flood-hazard map. This helped the government to identify and target the most vulnerable communities.
Early-warning systems inform decision-making on resources and targeting, to help communities prepare for disasters.
In Bangladesh for example, our weather forecasting led to distributions of cash to vulnerable farmers to pay for measures such as reinforcing their homes or stockpiling food ahead of heavy flooding.
We work with communities on resilience measures to help them reduce the impact of emergencies. In the semi-arid Sahel region for example, people dig water catchments called ‘half-moons’ to help combat drought, in return for them receiving food, cash and/or land.
Along with meteorologists, we have conflict analysts and economists whose risk assessments inform preparation for worst-case scenarios. This allows WFP offices around the world to gauge response capacity and take preparatory action in preparation for possible disaster. When Hurricane Dorian struck in September 2019 for example, our Barbados Office for Emergency Preparedness & Response in the Caribbean had already worked with local partners to conduct a needs assessment and begin planning. The office had been established in 2018 after hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated large parts of the region, to facilitate pre-emptive action as well as swift response.
Our staff are trained to be first-class emergency responders – immersive training includes simulations of real-life emergencies. When extra capacity is needed to support a response, we have the staff on hand ready to surge at a moment’s notice.
We work with governments on broader measures to increase countries’ readiness for emergencies. In the most climate disaster-prone provinces of the Philippines for example, WFP is providing emergency response training and equipment to local government units, helping set up Automated Weather Stations and carrying out slope stabilization to protect people and their farms.