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Why we need an anticipatory approach to humanitarian crises and COVID-19

Blog Post

Every June, humanitarian agencies gather together at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss and agree on how to best tackle the most recent and pressing humanitarian concerns—it’s called the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS). This year, it looked a little bit different.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 HAS proceeded as a fully virtual meeting. Start Network joined UN member states and organisations, IFRC and the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) for a side event, which discussed an ‘Anticipatory Approach to Humanitarian Crisis and COVID-19’. In the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, which will have undoubtably impacted every single country around the world, the need for the humanitarian sector to shift to a more proactive approach to managing crises was palpable.

Ana Marie Dizon, Start Network’s FOREWARN Coordinator with CARE Philippines represented Start Network at the event. Ana highlighted Start Network’s COVID-19 work to date; the network’s Start Fund COVID-19 fund has already funded 24 projects in 17 affected contexts. Ms Dizon then shared a bold message from Start Network’s hubs which are working to enable a more local response to the immediate needs of COVID-19:

“COVID-19 has changed the way that the humanitarian sector is operating; localisation is inevitable now. Limited mobility is giving new urgency and prominence to the capacity for local actors to respond. There are, however real questions of motivation. Is this about tactical and operational convenience, and the convenient transfer of risk? Or is this a moment for pursuing the spirit of partnership, subsidiarity and complementarity enshrined in recent global accords?”

The COVID-19 pandemic is illustrating that a system-wide shift towards anticipation will not just require quality forecasting information for humanitarians, or better coordination from partners. This pandemic is a stark reminder that local actors must be funded, equipped and supported if the humanitarian sector is going to become truly anticipatory.

Matthew Wyatt, Deputy Director and Head of Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department (CHASE) went on to remind the attendees that the humanitarian community has a moral duty to act on risks. Pascale Meige, the Director of Disaster & Crisis Prevention at IFRC stressed that climate change won’t stop for COVID-19, and that vulnerable communities will have to navigate ongoing risks of other hazards which will be compounded by COVID-19. Jon Stone, Head of REAP emphasised that ‘no regrets’ anticipatory interventions can’t mean rushed or poorly designed humanitarian programming.

Start Network will continue to work with partners to advocate for a more anticipatory humanitarian sector. We believe that by providing funding fast, early, in a collaborative way—and by providing it based on need and not on media headlines or political will—we can help responders and communities to become better prepared to act in a crisis. In the context of COVID-19, Start Network will continue to highlight the following messages:

For donors:

Support fast and flexible funding arrangements which will allow humanitarian agencies to manage and respond to emerging risks related to the outbreak. Please share the importance of this approach with other donors.

Support local actors to access pre-positioned financing, enabling them to assume a clearer role within national early action strategies. This is critical to managing risks effectively.

Maintain wider humanitarian budgets. Existing humanitarian funding should not be diverted to COVID-19 but should be provided in addition. Other humanitarian crises and natural disasters have not stopped.

For other early action agencies:

Work with us to develop community-based tools and methodologies so that risks can be managed at the local level and ensure these complement wider risk management practices.

Collaborate on collective evidence and learning activities to build the evidence base for early action and participate in the exchange of best practice.

For Governments:

Exemptions for humanitarians to curfews or lockdowns, and privileged access to protective equipment as key workers, as well as sustained access to financial institutions and channels to swiftly transfer funds to local partners in COVID-19 affected countries. 

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  • by Sarah Klassen