FEATURE: Can locally-led anticipatory action address climate impacts at scale?

24 November, 2021

There is considerable potential for more locally-led anticipatory action to prepare people for extreme weather and climate events and avoid loss and damage – reports Myriam Castaneda Solares of the START network, from a COP26 Resilience Hub event.

This is the 13th story in the Windows on Resilience series produced by CDKN and the Resilience Knowledge Coalition for the COP26 Resilience Hub – a physical and virtual space at COP26 dedicated to sharing best practice and building collaboration, momentum and new opportunities on adaptation and resilience. This story series shares practical and inspiring resilience solutions from communities and countries around the globe. Register for the Resilience Hub here (COP26 events viewable until 30 November).   

For decades, the aid system has been characterised as being slow, reactive, and allergic to change. Yet, despite the many challenges that persist today, there is increasing evidence that shows how local responses to climate change and acting ahead to avert climate-related crises can both help to save more lives. We can see some initiatives that are already proving this, but the most urgent challenge is to address the widespread loss and damage that is already happening. In this context, how can we scale up these incipient initiatives and make locally-led anticipatory action the norm?

Changing now is a matter of survival

We can no longer ignore the ever-increasing appeals from local organisations and communities that demand a change in the business-as-usual aid model, which sometimes we are too comfortable to challenge or change.

In a joint event with the International Institute for Development and Environment (IIED) at the COP26 Resilience Hub, Emeline Siale Ilohahia, the executive director of PIANGO and member of Start Network Pacific hub noted that for the Pacific region, climate change is one of the most pressing political, economic, and environmental issues. It places the very existence of their people in jeopardy.

“The Pacific region contributes to only 0.03% of total greenhouse gas emissions. However, thousands of Pacific communities are being heavily and constantly impacted by climate change disasters, affecting many aspects of our lives including our Pacific identity,” she said.

In heavily climate-affected places such as the Pacific islands or Western Africa, locally-led anticipatory action could be a game changer. The availability of technology to help us better forecast major climate hazards, such as droughts, cyclones, storms and heatwaves, means that we can act early and prevent disasters. This is just what the Start Network did in partnership with the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Replica policy to protect against drought in Senegal. This forecast-based anticipatory action enabled families to protect livestock and other valuable assets from drought and avoid resorting to ‘negative coping strategies’, such as skipping meals or sending children to work instead of school.

But there is a challenge for anticipatory action, too. Coxy Talukder from ASHIKA, a local organisation in Bangladesh, expressed the need to access quality risk information that is practical and usable by local actors. There is still a long way to go to make this information accessible to at-risk communities.

Not a call for money, but a shift in mindsets

Preventing disasters and acting ahead of crises is not a popular approach, and evidence shows that there is a substantive gap. Although 50% of natural-hazard-based disaster losses are somewhat preventable less than 1% of funding goes to anticipatory action, and a much lesser percent goes to locally led anticipatory action, this way of dealing with crisis is unsustainable in the long run. Climate crisis is exacerbating humanitarian needs, as extreme weather events are more frequent and intense worldwide, and this pattern is due to continue into this century, and so climate change might be the catalyst we need to take commitments into action. Some governments and donors have started to make this shift. However, those changes are too small in terms of their speed and amount of funding. That’s due to the ever-present risk aversion that characterises both power-holders and financial decision-makers in the wider humanitarian system, and in national context, in the disaster management agencies.

Another key element that is at the core of the paralysis of investing in locally-led anticipatory action is trust or the lack of it. Over the past decades, local and national NGOs have been excluded from decision making and funding – said Ms Ilolahia. The underlying reason is the lack of trust that governments and aid donors have in local organisations’  agency, ability to make complex decisions and manage funding, and their ‘unwestern’ way of collecting evidence. How many more years of the so-called ‘capacity building’ is needed?

As Emeline Siale Ilolahia mentioned, let’s remember the modus operandi of the humanitarian system during the recent COVID-19 pandemic response. A system that was built to respond to crises and save lives was not ready to act, and when international aid actors departed communities at risk rather than responding to their needs, who was present before, during and after the pandemic? Local organisations. So, perhaps it is time to change our mindsets and think about how can we amplify the local knowledge and support those organisations that are at the frontlines and are the very first responders throughout crises.

COP26 is over, let the work begin

The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis. Finding a solution to mitigate the loss and damage experienced across the globe is a complex task that requires a coordinated approach in which governments, donors, local, national and international organisations come together.

A great initiative already taking place that gathers a wide range of stakeholders is the Principles for locally led adaptation and we can see how two key focus areas of this principles – providing predictable funding and building a robust understanding of climate risk – are directly linked to locally led anticipatory action. At Start Network we have recently launched Start Ready which is a new financial service for the humanitarian sector, with innovative crisis financing mechanisms to deliver faster, more efficient, and more effective global humanitarian action.

The cost of doing nothing is too much, too big, and too disruptive to humanity. That is why we need to take bolder choices and courageous actions now. As humanitarians, we need to keep advocating for change, but also, we need donors and aid agencies to go beyond international pledges and commitments and start funding locally-led anticipatory action, particularly supporting local priorities and systems to guarantee sustainability in the long term and to reach at-risk populations.

Image: Humanitarian supplies on the way, Vanuatu. Courtesy of Oxfam.

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