The Domino Effect: Acting in advance of crises
We began our journey into early action with the creation of the Start Fund anticipation window in 2016. This journey has since borne many fruits, enabling our members to act in advance of 37 crises globally. We have helped to mitigate the damage of impending disasters and, in some cases, managed to stop crises from forming altogether as a result of well-timed, pre-emptive action. Through these experiences, we have built a strong body of evidence that points to the value of early interventions to save time, money, and lives.
We have learned from our members that rising water levels, for example, often bring disease—be it cholera or a worsening of existing water-borne conditions—but proper handwashing and chlorine water taps can help. We have also learned that disease travels more easily across open borders (such as the one between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) but using theatre, song and dance to raise awareness around potential health crises is an effective way to mitigate its effects. This has never been more relevant as we work to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Early action is also important when it comes to man-made events. For example, in DRC, urban slum fires happen around the same time each year. Members have suggested that we could respond to the first fire, whilst simultaneously integrating early action for the subsequent ones, such as distributing extinguishers, agreeing assembly points, or building latrines to ensure that makeshift ones don’t explode. In advance of elections in Kenya, two feuding tribes distributed non-food items to one another so that they could start overcoming historical differences before a period of heightened political tension.
Members have also come up with innovative solutions to those crises which are outside of human control. For example, in anticipation of volcanic eruption in Goma, members developed a board game that taught schoolchildren about the risks and emergency evacuation procedures to follow in the event of a warning. The success of this small-scale pre-emptive action will inform risk financing strategies and other projects in DRC going forward. Similarly, members of Start Fund Bangladesh have suggested that anti-snake venom be prepositioned in villages that have historically been worst affected by floods and that stocks be replenished in health centres before monsoons hit. This is because snake bites are the second-most common cause of flood-related deaths in Bangladesh (the first being drowning).
Most recently, the Anticipation and Risk Financing team have started new initiatives in Madagascar, Senegal and soon Pakistan to mitigate the effects of drought. Drought is a slow onset crisis and our work has indicated that early action can significantly alleviate its impact. For example, in periods of drought, protein consumption drops as a result of increased costs and decreased access. Therefore, the distribution of vaccinated poultry during lean seasons in Madagascar could be successful in providing families with improved nutrition and a means of generating supplementary income. Other proposed initiatives include the seed-funding of (often female-led) laundry businesses to supplement income, and cattle vaccination to boost immunity. We’ve also encouraged the planting of orchards at schools in El Salvador to provide an alternative source of nutrition over the medium-long term. In more immediate situations of need, our members in Senegal are assessing the viability of short-cycle seeds that can be planted at different points in a failed or failing rainy season.
These are just a few examples and our members continue to come up with innovative solutions to humanitarian crises all the time. Early action has proven valuable and, now more than ever, our members need to adapt to constantly changing constraints on humanitarian action (e.g. bans on mass gatherings for food distributions or mandatory contact-free support services). That’s why we've set up Start Fund COVID-19 with early action in mind, allowing members to merge early action with response, to prevent and respond to the primary and secondary impacts of this pandemic. It is our hope that this will promote more contextually relevant activities, which we can then roll out across the membership.