Anticipatory action is a new approach to preventing suffering in emergencies.
When disaster strikes, what could be better for the affected communities than a speedy emergency response? One that’s already happened.
That’s the idea behind a new approach to cyclones and other hazards that are possible to predict: distributing cash in advance to families in the communities that lie in harm’s way.
With a little cash in hand, a family can lay in supplies of food and medicine that will help them weather a major storm. They don’t need to fight their way through flooded streets afterward, and then face the shortages and pay the inflated prices that inevitably follow a disaster, and they don’t need to rely on loan sharks to provide what they need.
Cash in advance might enable them to secure their roof against powerful winds—a preemptive move that could significantly reduce loss and damage. And every preparation can help ease the worry that they won’t be able to protect their children from the worst effects of the emergency.
“If you wait until a disaster strikes,” says Ria Barrera from the People's Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDRRN), an Oxfam partner in the Philippines, “it means more suffering, more losses, more time for recovery.”
To understand the value of what’s known as anticipatory action, it’s important to see the context in so many of the communities that bear the brunt of catastrophic storms: families have virtually no food stored or money saved. Each day they scrape together enough to eat, often by performing day labor in homes and on farms and construction sites. The work doesn’t pay well enough to enable savings, so their existence is hand to mouth.
Tahera Begum, an agricultural laborer who lives in Gaibandha, Bangladesh, speaks for countless families: “The only food we store in our homes is rice,” she says. “We can’t afford to buy more.”
By interrupting their paid work, a storm snaps the fragile thread that connects them to their source of food and consigns them to days of worry, risk, and—too often—hunger. Under the circumstances, a small infusion of cash can make an outsized difference.