Extreme weather events and climate variability threaten millions of livelihoods. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is developing a new tool that helps attenuate the impact of disasters before they occur. Andreas Wüstenberg, FAO Programme Officer for Early Warning Early Action, explains how it works and what results the team obtained from first projects.
Over the past two decades, mounting scientific evidence has shown that the global climate is changing. While changes in average climatic conditions can have serious consequences by themselves, the main impacts of global climate change are felt due to fluctuations in climate variability and weather extremes. Intensified and frequent climate-driven natural disasters and conflicts have dramatically increased, occurring nearly five times as often compared to 40 years ago.
The higher frequency and intensity of natural disasters can increase livelihood vulnerability to recurrent weather phenomena, such as El Niño. The recent 2015-2016 El Niño was one of the most intense and widespread on record in the past one hundred years. Agriculture, food security and the nutritional status of more than 60 million people were affected by various El Niño-induced conditions, including droughts, floods and extreme hot and cold weather.
Early Warning Early Action helps manage disasters and protect development gains
As a result of this climatic shift, humanitarian actors and donors are facing new challenges to respond in a timely and effective way. Expanding needs, competing priorities and scarce resources globally mean that new tools are needed to ensure smart, effective investments to help attenuate the impact of disasters before they occur. One tool that is addressing this need is: Early Warning - Early Action (EWEA).
The concept of acting early before disasters strike is gaining increasing attention as the international community recognizes the importance of exploring new and cost-efficient ways of disaster management. Being able to forecast and mitigate the impact of disasters is critical – not only to save lives and livelihoods but also to protect development gains.
FAO has developed an EWEA System to translate warnings into anticipatory actions to reduce disaster impacts on agriculture sectors. It focuses on consolidating available forecasting information and putting plans in place to make sure we act when a warning is at hand.
On Watch, High Risk or Risk of Famine?
The EWEA System works at two levels: global and country-specific. Globally, FAO has developed a quarterly EWEA report focusing on a number of high risk and on watch countries – see the example from the Jan-March 2017 report below. It complements early warning analysis with recommendations on which actions could be taken to mitigate or prevent the disasters. If cases are very urgent, special alerts are published. (Find a copy of the latest report here.)
Nationally, FAO works closely with its country offices on the ground to develop specific EWEA Plans. These plans are tailored to each country and utilize existing early warning systems to develop indicators and evidence-based triggers for prompt action. For the pilot phase of the project, which runs until the end of 2017, seven priority countries have been identified.
To date, four pilot missions in Paraguay, Kenya, Madagascar and the Pacific Region have been completed. Each has resulted in the development of country-specific EWEA plans tailored to the most prominent risks. The first plan was launched in Paraguay, where FAO worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen early action capacity for floods. In Kenya, on the other hand, an early action plan focusing on mitigating the impact of drought on livestock was developed in close collaboration with the National Drought Management Authority. The third pilot in Madagascar also developed a drought early action plan for the southern provinces to address both crops and livestock based on seasonal vulnerabilities. And finally, the team’s latest mission to the Pacific Region supported the development of a regional cyclone early action plan and a drought early action plan tailored for the Solomon Islands - with two further drought early action plans for the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia currently in the making. Sudan, the Philippines and Guatemala are the remaining three additional pilots to follow in the course of 2017.
To enable the activation of EWEA Plans, FAO has established a fund dedicated to supporting the implementation of Early Actions. Once pre-defined triggers have been reached, funds are rapidly released to Country Offices. The Early Actions will be implemented according to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the pre-agreed early action plans. In order to kick start the Fund, an initial 3 million US dollars have been committed by FAO from its own internal resources.
EWEA in Action
In 2015, FAO tested the EWEA system for the first time. The team at FAO Somalia acted early to implement flood mitigation measures along the Shabelle River following flood forecasts. Among a host of interventions, almost 70 river breakages were repaired, saving over 9100 hectares of farmland from flooding after the rains had set in. Approximately 6.5 million US dollars in maize production were saved. At a cost of approximately 1.7 million US dollars, this early action intervention provided a return of an estimated four times the initial investment. This result revealed the need and value of establishing EWEA systems.
Following the piloting of the EWEA system in September 2016, FAO Kenya activated the Early Action Plan in November 2016 following close monitoring of early warning indicators, which pointed to an onset of a potentially severe drought. As a consequence, 400,000 US dollars were rapidly allocated from the Early Action Fund towards pre-agreed activities. This allocation enabled the office to prepare to implement livestock support activities, which included feed and water distribution, veterinary support and livestock market support. When it became clear that drought was affecting most of the Horn of Africa, the Early Action Fund was activated an additional three times in early 2017 for Somalia, Ethiopia and a regional cross-border operation. The funds are currently being utilized to mitigate the effects of the drought on crop and livestock-dependent livelihoods across the region.