How and when can development, climate change and humanitarian actors best support households to further protect their livelihoods and wellbeing in the face of repeated or ongoing food crises forecasted to worsen?

Funded by the Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action and the Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation and carried out in Kenya and Somalia, this research was commissioned by Save the Children to answer this question.

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Anticipatory action (AA) is a risk management approach. It entails acting ahead of a forecasted hazardous event or its impact to reduce humanitarian needs and protect lives and livelihoods.

Relying on risk data and forecasting, AA has had the most success with predictable, rapid-onset hazards such as flooding and hurricanes. The added value of AA is less clear for a prolonged crisis like a protracted drought.

With the likely increase of slower-onset and recurrent climate-related events, humanitarian and development actors need to find ways to adapt AA initiatives to heighten their effectiveness in protracted crises.

The report recommends:

  • Communities should be supported to adopt a comprehensive approach to disaster risk management (DRM) that includes anticipatory action. Without the wider components of early warning and disaster risk reduction, AA will not have the desired impact. This includes support for early warning and preparedness systems.
  • The first step is to build deep community awareness about the need for such an approach – without it anticipatory action will be built on sinking sand.
  • In parallel, the agropastoral, water, education, and health systems serving these communities need strengthening. If these systems are weak during non-crisis periods, they will not be able to flex and adapt to forecasted shocks. Reinforcing early warning, food storage and fodder management systems are crucial elements of effective DRM. Given communities do not systematically receive or believe early warning information, improved and locally relevant early-warning messaging is needed.
  • Anticipatory action in protracted drought should be promoted. AA initiatives to protect livelihoods are best suited for agro-pastoral households that still have livelihoods left to protect. Such initiatives could include the provision of supplementary livestock fodder, cash transfers or veterinary support; commercial or slaughter destocking; improved water access; and risk-informed school feeding. By definition, their timing is critical. AA initiatives to protect wellbeing, including keeping children in school, and food security are suitable for all households, even those who have few or no productive assets remaining.
  • While AA has an important role in protracted crises, it is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate the full impact of any crisis. Therefore, a portion of the population will need humanitarian aid as well as AA. Humanitarian aid should prioritise households that are ‘dropping out’ of pastoralism, or those with minimal or no livelihood assets.
  • There are clear and convincing reasons to use anticipatory action during a protracted food crisis. It can help protect the livelihoods of households hanging on to pastoralism. It can protect the broader wellbeing and food security of all households, including those who have lost their livestock and livelihoods. In fact, once the wider system of support – veterinary, health, economic, nutritional, educational and social – is strengthened and primed, anticipatory action is a huge opportunity to protect and sustain communities’ wellbeing and preferred livelihoods from drought shocks, both short-lived and protracted.

Download the report:  Morinere, Lezlie C., Tozier de la Poterie, Arielle, Swift, Laura and Schofield, Lilly. 2024. Looking ahead in the midst of a crisis: The role of anticipatory action in a protracted drought. London: Save the Children.