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The drought that was foreseen

Anticipation in Timor Leste

  • by Amrina Rana
  • 02 May 18

Credit: Atmospheric Research CSIRO |

Blog Post

What happened

Start Network members submitted an Anticipation Alert in May 2017 for a drought that was predicted to hit Timor-Leste in November 2017.  Start members had been carefully monitoring the situation, as significant food security issues had been ongoing in Timor-Leste since the 2015-2016 El Nino caused a major drought.

The Start Fund was activated and within 7 days and £200,000 was allocated to five Start Network members, who implemented mitigation projects on the ground. The projects included early warning systems analysis, food and seed distribution and drought preparedness activities with local communities and partners.

As part of the anticipatory response, four Start members carried out food and seed distribution reaching communities with large proportions of agriculturalists which would badly affected by a repeated drought. This was accompanied by disaster risk reduction messages providing advice for drought scenarios. Innovative ‘tippy taps’ were also introduced in one project area, these provide efficient water sources to enable drought effected communities to maintain their personal hygiene.

Learning by doing

For this unique drought response, the Start Team collaborated with three Start members in country analyse the impact of the seed and food distribution. We wanted to understand whether farmers had successfully planted and harvested their seeds, and if this impacted their ability to withstand a further drought. To do this, we carried a representative survey of farmers across Viqueque, Lautem and Baucau in the East of Timor-Leste.

The process demonstrated the value of learning by doing. The survey results showed that farmers staple seed and vegetable harvest varied dramatically across the different distribution areas and the reasons for this were quite diverse. For example, some farmers struggled with accessing water while others were worse effected by animals and pests. This process was a big learning curve, some of our key reflections were:

Timing is key

This alert triggered a full year earlier compared to the 2016-2017 drought response. The anticipation window triggered six months before an expected drought, whereas the last response had started six months after the first signs of a problem. This is a great demonstration of how the anticipation window can enable early response. However, the confidence in forecasts at that time was weak. The food and seeds provided also did not last up until the start of the forecasted drought. Next time, we will support members to trigger a little later, corresponding to local seasonal agricultural calendars, if a comparable situation emerges.

Drought needs a multifaceted response

The survey showed that many factors impact whether a seed distribution is successful, including those related to the quality of seeds, weather, knowledge and the presence of hungry animals or insects. If seeds are to be used in drought response their quality must be assured and farmers should be supported to store and grow their seeds effectively. CRS accompanied their vegetable seed distribution with training on kitchen gardens which helped farmers protect their crops from animals.

Looking forward

A case study on this Anticipation Alert discusses these reflections in more depth and analyses each stage of the Anticipation cycle. Case studies such as these allow us to reflect on what could be done to improve our Anticipatory responses to drought in the future. They also help us test our theory of change, from the impact of collaborative risk analysis, to the provision of forecasting information, to the incentives made available to members for early actions. Learning from this alert has been incorporated into our drought pre-alert guidance note and reflected to members considering drought responses when relevant. Closing these learning loops will help ensure we mobilise the power of the network to learn about crisis anticipation through doing.

The Start Fund anticipation window seeks to mitigate harm and loss for communities at risk of crisis. It does so by enabling and incentivising Start Network members to monitor risk and act on the basis of forecasts. Through the Start Fund anticipation window, Non-Governmental Organisations can respond to shifts in risk, such as a forecast of extreme rainfall or likely political crisis. A key element of this approach requires collective sense-making, or collaborative risk analysis, around the situation forecasted and its potential humanitarian impact.

Read the full case study: Anticipation of drought in Timor-Leste

Video: What is the Crisis Anticipation Window?

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  • by Amrina Rana