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Publication | 18 March 2022

Anticipatory action for livelihood protection

The term ‘anticipatory action’ (AA) refers to actions triggered before a crisis in order to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis, or even avoid crisis altogether. While substantial progress has been made in reducing the devastating impacts of drought, most anticipatory actions taken to protect livelihoods have been on a small or pilot scale, and on an ad hoc project basis. In many crises, humanitarian responses still arrive late. Decisions on how to protect livelihoods continue to be taken when a crisis is already happening and delays in mobilising funds to respond are commonplace. To scale up AA, the justification for allocating humanitarian resources before a crisis needs to be clear; this ultimately rests on getting the timing right. This paper demonstrates how a crisis calendar can be used to identify when decisions around livelihood protection for drought need to be taken in order to be effective. Understanding the window(s) of opportunity is critical to the success of AA. The paper identifies six AA modalities to help protect livelihoods ahead of a forecasted crisis. These are: (1) implementing an assistance project with dedicated funding (the approach currently being taken in pilot AA projects); (2) heightened surveillance; (3) investment in preparedness; (4) increased attention to ensuring that work that ought to be done seasonally is actually accomplished; (5) redirecting resources away from previously planned interventions in favour of actions that will help mitigate the predicted crisis; and (6) ensuring that potentially affected people are given all possible information, so that they can make informed choices about their own anticipatory actions. The analysis presented in this paper suggests that the potential benefits of AA can only be achieved if the central focus moves from identifying and supporting vulnerable individuals with particular project packages to effecting a system-wide change in how AA is thought about and used. For example, anticipatory livestock protection activities at scale for droughts will require agencies and governments to consider how much fodder is available in a country, and the capacity to transport it.1 Only then will AA be able to play a much wider and more significant role in protecting livelihoods from the damaging effects of drought and other shocks.