Before disaster strikes: Forecast-based anticipatory action in Nepal

As climate change drives more extreme weather events around the world, countries like Nepal are broadening the humanitarian toolbox to ensure that the right support gets to those most in need, at the right time

In 2019, an estimated 1.26 million people were exposed to flood risks during the monsoon season. While there had been many devastating floods in the recent years, —from the 2008 Koshi River flooding to this year’s monsoon flooding in which 200,000 people were affected — the phenomenon has always been a fairly cyclical, consistent occurrence.

The consequences of flooding are as varied as they are serious: families lose homes, crops and livestock. Road blockages prevent markets from functioning properly, and building damage compromises safe, productive activity. Those most affected are invariably the most vulnerable or socially marginalised groups, and food stock loss, hygiene and sanitation problems combine to exacerbate existing food insecurity issues.

The government has been working on flooding preparedness and early warning to mitigate the impact of floods on communities. One example of this is the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology’s early warning messages, which are sent out in the hours preceding rapid flooding, allowing families enough time to react. Another innovative idea that has emerged in recent years is Forecast-based Financing (FbF).

FbF is an innovative mechanism whereby early actions at the community and government level are pre-planned based on credible forecasts, and are funded and implemented before a climate shock. Its goal is to anticipate disasters, prevent or mitigate their impact, if possible, and reduce human suffering and losses.

FbF at its core turns traditional humanitarian response on its head—instead of focussing on assistance after a flood, support is given to communities ex-ante. Reliable triggers for assistance are set based on risk analyses and weather forecasts, and anticipatory actions — from evacuation to prepositioning of food and relief items – are taken in the days and hours before the disaster hits.

Championed by the likes of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the German Red Cross and the World Food Programme (WFP), FbF came into widespread practice only in the last few years. It has been applied in humanitarian response ranging from floods in Bangladesh, to hurricanes in the Caribbean, to drought in Niger.

This concept, applied to floods, has been firmly backed by the Nepal government, and reflected in its National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy of 2018. Through this initiative, tools to monitor and forecast a variety of hazards are to be linked with early warning systems and early government actions.

As an implementing agency of FbF, WFP has been supporting the government in improving the quality of forecasts to better predict floods and their impacts through the creation of new hydrodynamic models. The next step is to understand household vulnerability, and to this end, WFP and the Nepal Red Cross Society have been collecting household data in 11 Tarai districts and ranked them on a risk index. This allows Palika governments to direct their efforts towards the households and communities that need assistance the most.

Equally important to the FbF approach is outlining the anticipatory actions that governments and partners can take against reliable forecasts. WFP has worked with 19 Tarai district governments to design standard operating procedures that spell out various anticipatory actions to take at different lead times, including evacuation of at-risk populations, activation of early emergency protocols, and preparation of assistance for at-risk or affected communities.

Other actors, including the Nepal Red Cross Society, the Danish Red Cross and Practical Action, are also starting to incorporate a forecast-based, anticipation-based approach to disasters.

An international dialogue platform in Berlin, and three additional regional Dialogue Platforms held in Africa, Asia and Latin America with partners creates every year an exchange between participants on ways to improve Forecast-based Financing, and best implement the concept into existing

projects and advance the use of weather and climate data.

FbF is gaining increased attention in Nepal. On November 28, the Ministry of Home Affairs hosted the first-ever National Dialogue Platform for Forecast-based Financing and Anticipatory Humanitarian Action in Kathmandu. The National Dialogue Platform, which comes on the heels of a similar global event held two weeks prior, brought together government at all levels, practitioners and donors and served as a space to exchange ideas and practices.

As a result of the Platform, a clear community of practice is being formed among key government, NGO, UN and civil society partners based on a common vision on how anticipatory actions can best support the people of Nepal in becoming more risk-informed and shock-resilient.

As climate change drives more extreme weather events eveywhere, countries like Nepal are broadening the humanitarian toolbox to ensure that the right support gets to those most in need, at the right time. Forecast-based financing is an exciting step in this direction.

Ghimire is Joint Secretary at the Home Ministry and Aboubacar is Head of Evidence, Policy and Innovation, WFP-Nepal