Investing in Emergency Preparedness In the future, disasters will be more frequent than today - reducing risk is essential for both humanitarian and development Assistance

Why Invest in Emergency Preparedness?

Investing in preparedness can reduce the cost of response and ever-increasing burden on the humanitarian community. Risk-informed approach to emergency preparedness offers a departure from a reactive post-crisis response and recognizes the importance of building national response capacity as part of reducing future humanitarian needs. Emergency preparedness is not only for response; it is also for protecting development gains.

Emergency preparedness will save lives and livelihoods and can be truly transformative, as a means to reshape the way the humanitarian community responds to crises.

The volume, cost and length of humanitarian assistance over the past ten years has grown dramatically, in large part due to ‘protracted’ crises. Inter-agency humanitarian appeals last an average of seven years and the amount has increased nearly four times in the last decade. The humanitarian assistance reached an unparalleled $28 billion, a six-fold increase from ten years ago. Unprecedented humanitarian needs have outrun the capacity of the humanitarian community; only half of the required funding was received in 2016. Two-thirds of humanitarian assistance in 2014 responded to protracted crises that had been already receiving assistance for eight years or more.

Building resilience, reducing the risk of disasters and adapting to climate change are urgent humanitarian priorities, with increasing hazards (due to climate variability), exposure of people to urbanization and high levels of vulnerability among the poorest.

National and local capacity is critical to successful risk management. Humanitarian organizations already work with governments to manage crisis risk, but government’s role is rarely systematic. Governments and humanitarian organizations need to build a better-defined, less-politicized and strategic relationship. Investing in national and local response capacity and knowledge to build resilience will save lives, cut costs and preserve hard-won development gains.

A shift towards more anticipatory and preventive approach to humanitarian crises is now needed. The bleak reality of the current state of the humanitarian response has given new urgency to the long-standing discussion around better linkage between humanitarian and development work. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction set out to reduce risk, vulnerability and overall levels of need, providing a framework for both humanitarian and development actors to contribute to the common vision. Ending needs by reducing risks and vulnerability is a shared vision that transcends the humanitarian-development divide as affirmed in the Agenda for Humanity.

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) was a point of departure, as it generated urgency for a “New Way of Working”- a shift in the international humanitarian community’s mindset from funding emergencies to mobilizing finance for prevention and enhancing engagement between humanitarian and development actors. The commitments made at the WHS demonstrated a strong willingness to move from delivering aid to ending need, by investing more in emergency preparedness, including early warning, risk analysis, capacity building and readiness to respond, by national and local emergency managers.

We need to work together across institutional boundaries on the basis of comparative advantage. Significantly increasing prevention, mitigation and preparedness to anticipate and secure resources for recovery, should be the focus of humanitarian organizations and donors, but also of governments at all levels, civil society and the private sector.

Improved Planning for Emergency Preparedness

While increased support will cost in the immediate term, financing emergency preparedness measures have potential to reduce the costs of response. The current humanitarian response has repeatedly been criticized since the entire humanitarian system is funded by voluntary contributions and collected via appeals to donor governments and the public after the disasters strike, and mostly operating under annual planning cycle (supply driven, reactive and arriving late).

When extreme natural hazard events turn into disasters, the response from the governments and the international community is often generous (again, reactive response rather than proactive). This generosity is driven in part by the feeling that it is right to support disaster victims and in part by the recognition that it helps politicians look good.

However, appeals are not far off from begging bowls, and governments and donors are not exactly participants in organized systems, where response and routes to recovery are carefully planned beforehand using sound financial instruments.Currently, planning for disaster response begins after the disaster strikes, and that is already too late.

Preparedness is underfunded

Prevention and preparedness funding comprised less than 0.5 percent of all international aid over the past 20 years, and most came from humanitarian budgets. Effective preparedness and risk reduction requires sustained funding, which humanitarian budgets are not set up to provide. Funds allocated to disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness are inadequate. There are a number of reasons for this: emergency response is more immediate and visible.

“A politician won’t get credit for pushing good preparedness plans and investments. Why should a politician invest in a sensible system to reduce risks and enable a quick response to a strong earthquake if the political benefits from such a system are likely to be reaped by that politician’s successor?”

Preparedness is not visible

These facts of political life tend to lead to procrastination in setting up good response systems beforehand and in delays in making firm decisions about how to respond under various circumstances - decision makers are under little pressure, and the rewards are scarce. The shift from cure to prevention is ultimately a political challenge that requires the will and efforts of the governments primarily.

Humanitarians also need to examine their organizational structures, incentives, processes and culture. Senior leaders need to champion and be accountable for managing crisis risk, and concerted advocacy is needed to bring it to the attention of the decision makers. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Agenda for Humanity offer excellent opportunities to achieve this.

The ultimate goal is fully functioning national systems of preparedness, led by national actors capable of responding to the range of risks that countries may face. Emergency preparedness requires capacity, finance, knowledge, information and cooperation, and no government can succeed alone - it takes a strong and strategic partnership.

Way Forward

Multi-year Approach to Humanitarian Funding

Humanitarian response has been hampered by financing models that are inherently supply-driven and reactive. As a result, most funding has been for short-term, designed to address the needs of the emergency as it arises. In many cases it arrives late. In the case of slow-onset disasters, such as drought, actual aid on the ground can arrive nine months after the first failed harvest (it typically takes three to four months from appeal to delivery of aid), and there are often stories of aid arriving when the crisis has already passed.

Donors should consider merging the two funding streams, humanitarian and development assistance, at the same time considering to manage disaster, climate and conflict risks. Funding for preparedness needs to accommodate fluctuations in context, due to conflict or fragility or other factors.

Proactive advocacy within donor countries and institutions is required to ensure that preparedness is considered before costly response. Vocal support can only be sustained in broader international debates with the backing of key donors.

The extent to which humanitarian funding instruments can channel funds for preparedness remains to be a challenge. Reviews and reports on the humanitarian funds regularly show that the funds adapt to the absence of more suitable funding streams for preparedness, whether pooled or bilateral. The prevailing problem appears to be the gap between the humanitarian and development channels of the larger donors, and the lack of multi-year funding to operate in the gray zone where neither funding stream is fully taking charge.

Multi-year humanitarian funding is applicable in a range of disaster scenarios, though the most obvious is for protracted crises, where significant amounts of pre-planning can be undertaken to facilitate more dynamic and sustainable responses, resulting in cost efficiencies. However, it is also clear that multi-year funding can be helpful in predictable and regular rapid onset events, as well as for unpredictable rapid onset events where funding is required from relief through to recovery and reconstruction.

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