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Bangladesh monsoon flooding 2020: anticipatory action pilot


Top-line outcome

Collective anticipatory action at scale is possible and worked in Bangladesh. More people were reached earlier, faster, and at half the cost of a comparable rapid response. Moreover, people were empowered to help themselves.

What follows is a summary of some of the learning elements, namely, that an anticipatory approach works and leads to a faster, cheaper and more dignified response.

Bangladesh overview

Bangladesh is among the 10 most disaster-affected countries in the world, highly exposed to severe monsoon flooding and cyclones. In an “average” year, about a quarter of the country is inundated during the monsoon; every four to five years, severe floods may cover two thirds of the country. Intense floods at times exceed the ability of communities to cope, creating widespread humanitarian needs with longer-term adverse development consequences. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has provided flood-related financing four times since 2006 – namely, in 2006, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

2020 monsoon flood situation

The 2020 floods in Bangladesh had some remarkable characteristics. The flooding started in late June – earlier than usual — with a never-before seen “triple peak”, resulting in the second-highest level of flooding since 1989 and the second longest since the 1998. According to the Government of Bangladesh, 5.5 million people were affected, and 1 million houses were waterlogged. About 1.1 million people were displaced, and almost 100,000 were evacuated to some 1,500 shelters. Almost 1 million tube-wells and more than 100,000 latrines were damaged, 83,000 hectares of paddy fields were affected, and 257 people lost their lives.

2020 Bangladesh flood timeline

The Resident Coordinator (RC) launched a Humanitarian Response Plan on 4 August 2020, requesting US$40 million to help 1.1 million people. As of 30 November 2020, $12.2 million had been received to allow 651,000 people to receive aid.

2020 anticipatory action

map of distributions of anticipatory actions by union in Bangladesh In late June 2020, the Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh and the Emergency Relief Coordinator pre-approved and endorsed an anticipatory action framework and the corresponding CERF projects. Building on existing structures and experiences by the IFRC, WFP and the Government, the pilot was set up within two months.

The framework pre-established when and on what basis financing and action would be triggered ahead of a specific monsoon flooding peak; how much funding would go to which agency; and what activities the funding would be used for and in what time frame.

On 4 July 2020, severe floods were forecasted from 18 July onward. The framework was triggered and funding agreed within four hours, marking CERF’s fastest-ever allocation. The rapid release of CERF funding to agencies enabled humanitarian assistance to reach people before the peak of the flood.

By the time the water reached life-threatening levels, more than 220,000 people had already received assistance through WFP, FAO and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which worked with the Red Cross/Red Crescent, 10 local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Government of Bangladesh to provide:

  • Multi-purpose, unconditional cash to 22,434 families
  • Water-tight storage for 7,000 families
  • Animal feed for 11,761 families.
  • Hygiene and dignity kits for 10,455 women, girls and transgender people
  • Clean delivery kits that benefited 4,320 pregnant women
  • 600 pre-positioned post-rape treatment kits.1

Once the floodwaters receded, unspent CERF funding ($2.4 million out of the $5.2 million) was reprogrammed to provide additional multi-purpose, unconditional cash on a needs-driven basis to those people most affected by the flooding. The total reach of CERF was 321,715 people.

1 These kits have a potential reach of some 36,000 people. In line with applicable guidelines, this figure was not included in the overall reach of the pilot.

Did it work?

The independent process learning concluded that the pilot demonstrated the feasibility of scaling anticipatory action with CERF funding. The pilot brought greater international attention to the value and impact of acting in advance of a disaster. It showed what is achievable in a short amount of time when a motivated “coalition of the willing” comes together around a clear common goal around anticipatory action. The pilot also generated significant learning on bottlenecks and administrative hurdles to overcome for rapid-onset disasters.

The first round of an independent impact evaluation found rigorous evidence that recipients of anticipatory action were more likely to evacuate families and livestock, and lost fewer assets. People receiving anticipatory cash transfers were less likely to borrow any amount post-flooding, and borrowed more effectively when they did so. The study observed higher child and adult food consumption and life satisfaction, and concluded that people recovered more quickly after the floods. These results persisted over months, indicating that even one-off anticipatory (cash) assistances have an impact in the long run.

Was it faster?

Although timing of delivery is not a CERF reporting requirement, the main implementation periods can be deduced from CERF reports.

timeline of anticipatory action

In 2017, the flood peak occurred around 15 August. CERF allocated $2.4 million on 8 September 2017, or about three weeks after peak flood. This helped in reaching some 105,000 people with food aid in August, cash between September and November, shelter between October and November, and child protection services in December.

In 2019, the flood peak occurred around 19 July. CERF allocated $5.2 million on 22 August 2019, a month after peak flood. This helped in reaching some 200,000 people with cash between October and November, and livestock feed and health services between November and February.

In 2020, the main flood peak occurred around 18 July. CERF funding for anticipatory action was released on 4 July 2020, or two weeks before the main peak flooding. This helped some 220,000 people through unconditional cash, animal feed, watertight storage, as well as health, dignity and hygiene interventions related to sexual- and gender-based violence in July. In addition, beneficiary assessment and M&E reports from the 2020 experience confirm that consistently across all interventions, more than 90 per cent of recipients felt the aid was timely.

Was it cheaper (more efficient)?

More people were reached through the anticipatory action, at half the cost compared with CERF-funded rapid responses that occurred following the 2019 floods in Bangladesh. Comparing CERF reports of previous traditional allocations, the cost per person reached by the anticipatory action was $13, as compared with about $26 in the 2019 humanitarian response.

Part of the savings comes from pre-crisis efficiencies. UN agencies receiving CERF grants budgeted against their known emergency costs, i.e., applying humanitarian response budgets. However, given that agencies were able to procure ahead of peak needs, prices were lower, and the transport of relief items was cheaper.

These savings were primarily achieved by agencies that distributed relief items directly to people. UNFPA, for instance, saved per cent from their overall budget. FAO was able to increase reach by about per cent, to 18,800 people.

Is it more dignified?

This is a somewhat subjective measure. That said, advanced planning leads to better collaboration between agencies and their implementing partners during the programme design phase. Moreover, the quality of programming was improved, and the targeting was more precise.

Interviews reveal that 9 in 10 people reported quality-of-life improvements, targeting was good, and agencies reached the most vulnerable people. People who received the storage drums and animal feed from FAO experienced higher livestock productivity, increased storage space for essential items and improved access to clean drinking water.

Agency M&E reports show that interventions ensured better protection for women, girls and transgender communities. Lower loss of assets and animal mortality, lower indebtedness, lower levels of negative coping strategies. And many people were able to restart of farming production quicker.

“During any natural crisis, women suffer a lot because of their security and sanitary problem. But this kit […] solved these problems this year.” Female, 45, Chilimari

“I couldn't have done this own my own. I didn’t have enough money to provide food for my own family. It prevented a huge loss.” Male, 39, Saghata

“I have two children. And my husband left me. So now I live with my parents who are very poor. It’s a big family with six members, so they are unable to give me any living expenses. But, I’m happy that at least they are giving me a place to stay. So, the help money really helped me to manage food for my children for some days.” Female, 21, Fulchhari

“The feed is really good. This livestock feed helps me to feed my cows during the period of flood. This nutritious feed helps me to get more milk.” Male, 60, Mymensingh

“When I got the money, I cried for half an hour. I didn't have any money to buy any food for the children. We were starving for two days. And then I got your money and bought rice and other things to eat.” Female, 23, Ulipur

What about women and girls?

For predictable humanitarian crises, anticipatory actions can be better for everyone. The Bangladesh experience demonstrated that with the right approach, women and girls in particular can benefit from anticipatory actions.

First, with pre-planning and pre-identification of people comes an improvement of the quality of programming. UNFPA, for example, for the first time specifically designed dignity kits for the transgender community. Together with local implementing partners, dignity and menstrual hygiene kits could be tailored to the specific context ahead of time, including some COVID-19 related items.

The independent beneficiary assessment revealed that all agencies were very effective in reaching the very poorest and most vulnerable people, including single female-headed households. More than 9 in 10 people agreed that the aid provided went to households in their community who needed it the most. And 7 in 10 people agreed that the aid provided to cope with the floods benefited both men and women equally. Among the poorest households, women were more likely to benefit than men.

UNFPA found that assistance provided before peak flooding had spillover effects for women and girls, including that recipients reported to have gained higher access to health care and education, as well as income-generating, social and community activities.

UNFPA also conducted key interviews with husbands and fathers of recipients of dignity and menstrual hygiene kits. These men were grateful and satisfied with the assistance their spouses and girls received, as previously, they had mostly ignored women’s health issues during floods but now they realized that this support for women was really needed. FAO found that its support helps avoid longer-term displacement, and offered alternative work opportunities, particularly to women.

Is there room for improvement?

The rigorous learning also revealed room for improvement, with additional details in the reports listed on the next page. For instance, there is a need to further improve the trigger system, to increase the lead time and widen its applicability to other river basins. Better coordination among different sources of financing for anticipatory action would also be advantageous for a further scale-up. And anticipatory actions would benefit from a greater coordination around targeting vulnerable populations with a wider range of interventions to meet diverse needs of different communities. Lastly, a clear need for early warning of people at risk and closer collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh is needed.