Pretoria, 13 October 2020 — As the world marks the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in southern Africa has introduced an innovative way of anticipating humanitarian crises to enable early action and reduce their impact on communities most vulnerable to natural shocks. Known as ‘Forecast-Based Financing’ (FbF), it puts emphasis on anticipation and not reaction. Based on historical data and hydro-meteorological forecasts, early funding is released for an area known to be at high risk of being impacted by a natural hazard, so that humanitarian assistance can be provided before the disaster hits, thereby limiting the potential damage caused to people and infrastructure in these vulnerable communities.
In southern Africa, remarkable efforts have been made by regional bodies, governments and organisations to issue early warning information and alerts to relevant government departments, concerned organisations and the public. However, there has been very little effort to facilitate the translation of these warnings into early actions and informed early decision-making, until now.
“Whereas traditional disaster response is based on damage-limiting reaction to weather-related hazards, FbF focuses on anticipating them with the help of scientific data and research,” said IFRC Southern Africa head Dr Michael Charles. “The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is a pioneer in the area of disaster management. With FbF, we continue along this path, but instead of responding only, we now anticipate adverse events, and provide humanitarian assistance accordingly. It’s a real game-changer for us.”
FbF is currently being implemented by seven of the ten Red Cross National Societies coordinated by IFRC Southern Africa – in Mozambique (cyclones, floods, and droughts), Zambia (floods, droughts), Malawi (floods), Zimbabwe (droughts), Namibia (droughts), Lesotho (droughts), eSwatini (droughts).
Countries in southern Africa are recurrently affected by natural extreme events which have become part of people’s lived reality. But the way the events are impacting on vulnerable communities is changing along with climate change and as a lead actor in the humanitarian sector, the Red Cross Movement is looking at ways to respond to these changes. changes quicker, earlier and with more flexibility. “We need to adapt and be more flexible, quicker and earlier to reduce the humanitarian impact of these disasters,” says FbF Project Manager Sebongile Hlubi of Lesotho Red Cross Society. “The FbF model helps us Red Cross National Societies to build capacities and respond more effectively facing the prospect of floods, cyclones, tropical storms and cold and heatwaves in the region. In Lesotho we will use FbF to anticipate and mitigate the effects of drought and are hoping to eventually use this model to help those communities cut off by snow in the mountains to prepare for what many know is inevitable, but few have the means to prepare for.”
The model being rolled out by the IFRC and partners in southern Africa has been developed by the German Red Cross since 2015 and refined and improved in the last five years based on in-country experiences in various parts of the world. It means a major paradigm shift for the humanitarian world – a shift away from responding to a disaster to anticipating its imminent occurrence.
The FbF model has only been possible because of significant innovations in climate and weather data collection, and the accuracy with which we can predict what kind of event will take place, how intense the event is likely to be, and most importantly, where the event will likely cause the most damage. This tends to be among already poor or marginalized communities, or communities who have to deal with more than one disaster in a season – for example certain parts of Zambia where flooding is known to follow drought in certain areas, wiping out whatever crops communities were able to nurture during the dry season.
Research shows that investing in disaster preparedness and early action has its cost-benefit in terms of reducing both the humanitarian and financial footprint of natural extreme events. Natural disasters already cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and with an anticipated 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature, according to one estimate, damages from climate change could reach over USD 69 million by 2100. An analysis titled ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ by the IFRC in 2019 highlighted that if no urgent action is taken now, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance annually due to the climate crisis could double by 2050.
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