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Anticipatory Action and Cash Transfers for Slow-onset Hazards: Practitioners’ note for field testing

22 May 2024 — By Catherine Jones, Vlad Sorin Cozma, Mulugeta L. Handino

Asia and the Pacific, one of the most hazard prone-regions in the world, is now starting to grapple with an increasing number of slow-onset hazard crises. Events such as droughts and extreme winter seasons are becoming the norm, unfolding gradually and often eluding immediate recognition even as they leave enduring imprints on ecosystems, economies, and societies. These slow-onset hazards disproportionately affect marginalised groups, including women and minorities, who often face heightened vulnerabilities due to existing socioeconomic and cultural disparities. Unlike sudden-onset events, these slow-onset hazards unfold over an extended period, testing the adaptive capacities of communities and challenging conventional disaster response frameworks.

Anticipatory action (AA) is considered a valuable tool for reducing or mitigating the impacts of potential hazard events. Cash is rightfully acknowledged as an option for delivering effective, cost-efficient and timely assistance to vulnerable households within the critical window of AA. Despite this recognition, there is limited evidence in the Asia-Pacific region regarding the effectiveness of employing cash in these instances. While some studies highlight experiences of cash+ being deployed for AA in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Mongolia and provide valuable insights, the broader utilisation of cash transfers in AA scenarios remains underexplored.

As the focus of systems in the region has predominantly centred on AA for sudden-onset events, less attention and investment have been allocated to addressing slow-onset hazards. This trend is underscored by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) AA pilots in the region, which focus on floods, typhoons, and tropical cyclones in Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Fiji. However, a noticeable shift is occurring: an increasing number of AA protocols are either being developed or already being implemented across the region. These include, but are not limited to, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, the Philippines, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Viet Nam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While the heightened focus on drought in the region is promising, it is imperative to acknowledge and address the existing gaps. There remain significant deficiencies in understanding the optimal balance between in-kind/service delivery and cash assistance; determining the frequency and amount of distributions; understanding the difference between AA and response cash assistance requirements; and clarifying the broader role of cash within slow-onset scenarios.

This paper aims to explore multiple case studies on the slow-onset anticipatory cash topic, consolidating existing knowledge and scrutinising gaps that demand deeper investigation. It underscores the need to tailor cash interventions in AA and ensure that these interventions are sensitive to the diverse needs and challenges faced by all community members. The findings are based on consultations with communities and governments in Mongolia, Viet Nam, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu, as well as regional perspectives from over 30 agencies that are part of the Asia-Pacific Technical Working Group on Anticipatory Action (TWGAA) and the Asia-Pacific Regional Cash Working Group (RCWG). The authors aimed to explore diverse contexts – from some of the most populated countries to the least – to understand how cash can be effectively utilised in different settings for AA in slow-onset hazards. In the realm of slow-onset hazards, the focus will be on droughts and extreme winter seasons, aligning with the body of learning that has unfolded in Asia and the Pacific thus far.