DFID provides financing for early, mitigative response to emergencies. Is this part of a new trend?
There are over six protracted crises where communities are hit with repeated climatic and conflict related shocks that can keep people vulnerable and reliant on assistance. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
While the frequency, severity, and types of shocks differ, the international community tends to respond at the apex of the crisis, rather than during its earliest phases. Donor commitments tend to be triggered by passing set thresholds of people in need rather than on trend/variance analysis, triangulation between quantitative and qualitative evidence, and changes in household coping strategies. Thresholds, like those in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, are retrospective rather than predictive, like acute food security needs and/or famine that are based on set numbers rather than the speed of the emergencies' onset or tipping points from one form of crisis to another. A drought's impact on food security in one region can lead to migrations that can lead to new crises in new areas while the land left behind becomes fallow thus leading to wider-spread food insecurity. It can be, quite literally, a vicious chain reaction of events that plunge communities deeper into crisis. While there has been progress in coordination (the cluster system, HC leadership, etc.) and financing (CERF, CHF, etc.), action tends to be bound by triggers set at the apex of a crisis and by, more damningly, by a crises’ level of media attention.
This has not only led to a certain paralysis in the international community until these thresholds are met but also that the data collection, analysis, and research also tend to focus on the apex and aftermath of a crisis. Evaluative services, unfortunately, follow where the money is invested. This means that while common sense would dictate that responding earlier would save lives, staving off the worst aspects of a crisis, we actually don't have enough data to show the returns on this early investment, e.g. how early action saves more lives.
The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) is addressing these issues by providing direct funding for early, mitigating action as part of its 4-year humanitarian programme in Somalia. This includes £36 million or 25% of the Programme. It is also investing in data extraction and analysis to show how early support has a direct positive return in terms of saving lives.
There is evidence that this DFID facility supports longer-term positive outcomes and impact. The process from proposal to fund disbursement takes less than a few weeks in most cases, being far more efficient than other comparable financing mechanisms. DFID partners uniformly praise the funding mechanism and cite various ways they have used it to prevent the worst aspects of an emergency, including pre-positioning of supplies, using flood hazard satellite imagery to strengthen levees, diverting resources from areas of stability to new crises, and other actions that are having a positive impact. While these are positive, there is a certain level of confusion amongst DFID partners about what constitutes "preventative" action and some actions, like the pre-positioning of supplies, that don't abide with "no regrets" approaches to humanitarian action. Nonetheless, the fact that DFID supports early, preventative action prompts humanitarian actors to become more focused on preventative action.
At the same time, DFID's support is limited to its existing partners and the links between this support and broader humanitarian coordination through the HCT or other bodies is informal at best. DFID is forging ahead alone. This may mean that resources are being diverted to early response at the same time that other communities are facing the worst aspects of an emergency. This implies that choices may be made to support early response over more pronounced needs. This is a very difficult choice indeed.
To address this, DFID has also supported the development of an early response "trigger mechanism" that is being led by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and supported by OCHA. This trigger may enable other donors and the international community to act sooner and in coordination with one another. It is also based on solid evidence and so the information about what constitutes an early response and the potential outcomes and impact of early response will become a mainstay of these coordinated actions. Yet, these data/information systems are nascent at best and will need to be adapted to address variance, mixed quantitative and qualitative evidence, and changes in community based coping mechanisms.
In any case, DFID has introduced an innovative funding mechanism that improves results for DFID partners and the people they serve in Somalia. This innovative funding mechanism prompts new discussions about humanitarian action in Somalia. It is a direct and effective challenge to the humanitarian community to invest in early, preventative actions that can thwart the worst aspects of a crisis and therefore have more efficient and effective results. It has the potential of changing the chronic humanitarian needs of people across Somalia and in other protracted crises. It has already changed the humanitarian landscape in Somalia. It is poised to continue to do so going forward.