Translating Early Warning Into Early Action

Recent food crises have raised serious questions about the ability of the humanitarian system to respond effectively to Early Warning Systems.

Examples are the food crises in the Sahel in 2005 and 2010, and most recently in the Horn of Africa.

Despite Early Warning Systems generating accurate and reliable predictions of emergencies, providing governments and international agencies with ample time to raise funds and intervene early, responses can be characterised as ‘too little, too late’.

The repeated failure to translate early warnings into early action has major consequences for the efficacy of humanitarian responses, as agencies are limited in their ability to raise and mobilise resources, build logistical capacity and undertake preventative interventions designed to stop vulnerable people reaching crisis point.

Environmental and demographic trends such as climate change, resource depletion and population growth mean that human vulnerability to slow onset crises is on an upward trend. Addressing current failings presents an opportunity to mitigate this trend and reduce the numbers of people affected by avoidable crises.

Project aims

Reform requires an in-depth understanding of the barriers, be they political, institutional or technical, that prevent the translation of early warnings into early action. Such barriers may exist within or between particular organizations, within affected countries, or within donor countries. This project aims to identify these barriers for the special case of slow onset food crises, and make recommendations for how these can be overcome. The research is structured around the following areas:

  • Mapping the response chain for typical slow-onset food crises
  • Identifying barriers to early action within the humanitarian system
  • Identifying barriers to early action within affected countries
  • Making recommendations for improvement and considering innovative approaches to support early action
  • This project is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Disasters Emergency Committee.