Anticipatory action helps households weather severe floods

An aerial view of a submerged community in Bhajani, Kailali UNICEF/Laxmi Ngakhusi

Nepal. Nepal is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The yearly monsoon floods affect more and more people, driving displacement, food insecurity and disease. Economic losses can reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sarita and her family were badly affected back in 2017. “My first daughter was one month old at the time. We lost almost everything, but we survived by running away from the house. Each year, we struggle to survive the floods,” she remembers.

In 2022, humanitarian agencies in Nepal used new tools to act pre-emptively based on predictions and forecast data – before the floods began – to help vulnerable people living in the Karnali river basin. Laying the groundwork in 2021, OCHA worked with the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office, World Food Programme, UN Women, UNFPA and the German Federal Foreign Office, to develop the Nepal Anticipatory Action framework.

The aim was to trigger assistance based on warnings of potential floods, so that people would receive aid earlier. This would minimize the damage to communities, and prevent negative coping strategies like skipping meals or reducing meal size. Cash assistance alongside psychosocial support would improve the protection and health outcomes.

Activating action before the floods
With warnings of heavy flooding in targeted districts of Kailai, Bardiya and Banke the ‘readiness phase’ was triggered on 2 October, and agencies geared up their planned interventions. On 7 October, when forecasts triggered the ‘action phase’, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) authorized three UN agencies to spend $3.2 million to support communities ahead of peak flooding.

The World Food Programme, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Women distributed cash and essential supplies like food, clothes, and solar radios to vulnerable communities. They shared forecasts as an early warning of what to expect, and offered psychosocial and legal support services.

Bhagiram Sunaha was one of 15,000 families who received anticipatory cash assistance, which gave them the flexibility to buy food, make repairs, and get supplies ahead of the floods. “I will spend the money on clothes, repairing my boat, salt and oil,” he said.

Sarita, the woman who remembered fleeing with her baby daughter in 2017, received cash and essential supplies from UNFPA’s distribution in 2022. “With the money, I’ll buy some rice and food for my family,” she said.

How people felt it worked  
Initial monitoring showed that people used about a third of the cash they received for purchasing food – and the earlier they received assistance, the better their food security after the event. And people appreciated the UNFPA/UNWomen ‘Cash+’ modality, where they got a mixture of cash and in-kind aid.  The various food and basic items were useful even beyond the crisis event.

Overall, over 95% of respondents said they were satisfied with this help from the United Nations. They also mentioned how the UN can do better in the future, like making assistance easier to access; better integrating local knowledge, and linking up aid to long-term investments.

For many people, information was an important part of the assistance. People who received anticipatory action support were more likely to have had an early warning about the floods than other people.  

Amrita Kami, living in Bardiya district, described how “3-4 days earlier, we got the message that there will be floods. When we got the message, we took our animals and tied them to a raised embankment. We built a temporary shelter…and stayed there for some time,” she said.

They also had time to pack their food supplies and store them in a safe place. “Thanks to the alert message, we were able to read it and know when the flood will hit us. We were well prepared for the floods.”

Original stories and sources, including:
Nepal Joint Post-Distribution Monitoring (PDM) of Forecast-based Anticipatory Action Project – 2022).