What are the humanitarian think-tanks of Bangladesh thinking about Forecast-based Early Action?

07 February, 2019

By Apurba Swatee Mahboob

Do you think you would have been better prepared for an upcoming disaster if you had the resources to cope with it prior to the event?If the answer is yes; well, so do the biggest humanitarian think-tanks of Bangladesh. Last week I had the opportunity of watching all the greatest mind coming together to discuss a different approach of emergency response, Forecast based early action (FbA) in a Study launching event. Although FbA is not new as a concept, it has become an increasingly significant future financial response mechanism for disaster management. This approach has potential to reduce losses and suffering of the victims, whilst also saving money during rescue and relief distribution.

What is FbA by the book?

FbA has gained many definitions and names over time. However in simple words, FbA is using forecasts of shocks (extreme weather) to trigger funding/action before acute impacts are felt. Currently it is tapping into the avenues of Preparedness and evacuation, tracking emerging droughts, doing cash transfers before a flood, financing underfunded but emerging crises etc.

So what makes it relevant for Bangladesh? Given the pilots and emerging evidences it seemed only logical to act in advance to reduce suffering since the forecasting is becoming more advanced day to day. Moreover, high risks and frequency of disaster events and long-established practices of disaster management and humanitarian relief make Bangladesh a natural testing ground for FbA.

What is the study all about?

CARE Bangladesh has conducted a study on FbA in collaboration with Overseas Development Institute (ODI)-UK, START Network-UK, Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Center, Netherlands. The study assesses efforts to date in Bangladesh and aims to develop strategies for overcoming barriers to the formalization of future FbA mechanisms. The objective of this event was to bring relevant stakeholders together for forecast based action in Bangladesh and consolidate the experience and lessons while sharing report findings with current and potential stakeholders on the issue.

The research is jointly led by Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and CARE Bangladesh, funded by Department for International Development (DFID) under its WISER (Weather Information Services) project. Key partners include START Network, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre- Netherlands, & University of Sussex, UK. Literature and document reviews as well as Key informant Interviews were the methodologies for this research.

The research project investigates the technical, economic and institutional challenges to scaling up FbA in Bangladesh, with a particular focus on cyclones and floods. This included a learning exercises of an FbA pilot project in collaboration with the German Red Cross in Bangladesh and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in Bogura.

The report launching and dissemination event of this research organized by CARE Bangladesh, had taken place on 29th January, 2019 in Dept. of Disaster Management, MoDMR. The biggest minds of Bangladesh such as Government agencies, academia, research institutions, UN agencies, NGOs, INGOs and private institutions. Working on Risk financing and disaster management were present. The session discussion particularly emphasized that Value for Money analysis with better evidence on the (cost)-effectiveness of FbA approaches. The study report suggested improved food security, reduced lending costs and lower anxiety/depression among those taking early action before disasters. The discussion covered a wide range of topics from Inter-ministerial collaboration for implementation to Artificial Intelligence.

Inter-ministerial Collaboration

Disaster is not supposed to be limited to the operation of Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR), Govt. of Bangladesh (GoB). Its impact ripples from food security, unemployment to internal migration in the long run. Kazi Shahidur Rahman representing UNRCO has brought up these issues and suggested an inter-ministerial collaboration is necessary for addressing them. As disaster affects people’s livelihood from short run to long run, all the ministries working on these issues can come together and figure out on how they can collaborate more keeping their individual agenda in mind. It is also crucial to create more evidences of impact from Forecast based financing, so that the Value for Money on forecast based action becomes more obvious to the wider humanitarian community.

Other Modalities of Financing…

Relief along with its cliental bias cannot be the only way of disaster response. There are other financial modalities that are needed to be explored for optimal outcome. Crop insurance is not only opposite to relief but also can be a good weapon to preserve self-esteem and dignity of the affected people. Satellite imagery, remote sensing and readily available secondary database can help us tell which places are damaged who should be the accurate recipient of the insurance. This is called the index based insurance. Mr. M A Tariqul Omar, Program Director, National Resilience Program (NRP) mentioned that NRP will consolidate and explore potential of crops/disaster insurance further under this program.

This idea can be applicable to other disasters as well. For instance, an ongoing draught for consecutive 10 days can kill a particular crop yield at a particular place. It will be easily detectable that who are the affected population falling under criteria and risk premium can be paid to them in advance. FBF concept can be embedded in flood preparedness program which can be scalable to whole Bangladesh. Insurance can become the next protection against disaster.

The bottom-up approach is necessary for quick action

Atwar Rahman from Oxfam and Munirul Islam from Islamic Relief, two experts who have been working on disaster financing for a long time, voiced their concern about the authority of funding allocation to the local government. In case of flash flood in the north-east region of Bangladesh, the lead time is minimal. So time is a crucial factor in case of approval and allocation of fund by the local government. In flash flood the lead time (the time it takes to make a service available) is very little. People working in Flash-flood vulnerable region are doubtful regarding the functionality of FbA.However, there are sudden events that do not follow the routine disaster calendar. In those cases FbA can be a real savior.

On a different note, community people of Bangladesh have strong capacity to cope with monsoon flood. It not only reduces the stress level, but also give community people a direction way ahead. Nasir Uddin from ActionAid Bangladesh havepointed out the financial opportunities to scale up FbA nationwide. Since DDM Act 2012 already discusses about Forecast based financing, Start fund, UN CERF and other funding mechanisms are there, having access to Govt. fund will make it a full circle.

Pro-activity might devalue the community initiatives

Towhidul Islam Tarafder from Concern worldwide and Mokit Billah from ECHO on the other hand were discussing about aligning the community initiatives, indigenous knowledge on disaster cycle and Forecast based early action. People of Bangladesh have a very high coping mechanism with disaster and hopefully FbA will not hinder the practice. FbA mechanism should be designed to play along with the community.

RIMES with its technical view point is thinking about the alignment of the tactical part with the strategic horizon of FbA. Integrating Fba in early warning system, preparedness and response capacity is crucial to mainstream it. Linking the early warning system with vulnerability mapping and secondary data can solidify the forecast. If the response action plan is not thought out, the whole early warning system might not work. To establish forecast based financing, actions must be assessed and planned out.

They also suggested to communicate how probability, chances and risk work with the community enough. It’s imperative not only interpretation but also misinterpretation. Actions should be a combination of strategic and tactical which will reduce the chance of FbA going in vain. GoB has key role here. There are evidences, that forecast can be translated into actionable decision, but we need more evidence.

Morshed has pointed out how we should take the community centered approach. The policy and strategy paper should be well-communicated to community in their own language. The main resources are people and their community. Even sometimes Govt. fails with their plan if they fail to understand the community. IWM proposed their Mathematical modeling for flood forecasting. However transferring the river information to local people can be a real challenge.

Forecasting is not rocket science, or is it?

Saudia Anwar from UNDP and Damodar Kanel from German Red Cross have emphasized on using technology. Sensitizing the community people and working on institutional framework are crucial. UNDP with their Development 4.0 approach has been working on Artificial Intelligence for forecast based preparedness action for a while now. Using AI bot for Early warning dissemination is no longer a new topic. Though risk financing and forecasting is a complicated topic, better usage of smart phone and apps can make thing simpler and reachable for community people.

Acknowledging all the issues, Thomas Tanner, the lead researcher of this project had emphasized on the challenges of preparedness and financing methods. In case of a real life forecast of emergency, evacuating so many people as well as providing them with cash at such a short period of time will be the biggest challenge. GoB has its own mechanism to circulate funding. The process and protocol of rapid allocation of funding needs to be sought out.  Also in this era of ICT, mobile money is a game changer. Also with money Non Food Items can be stock-piled under Union Disaster Management Councils. The logistics can then be another issue to take care of.

Wrapping up Zia Choudhury, Country Director, Care Bangladesh and Kaiser Rejve, Director, Humanitarian and Resilience Program, CARE Bangladesh have expressed their gratitude and appreciated everyone’s enthusiasm. They emphasized on how crucial FbA is for a better disaster management and how a Forum can make it more effective and collaborative. The representative of Government of Bangladesh Abu Syed Mohammad Hashim, Director General of DDM have agreed to cooperate accordingly and launched the report officially. The event has not only ignited some thought provoking ideas but also paved a way for future collaboration for the betterment of humanity.

Photos: Asafuzzaman Captain/CARE Bangladesh

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