Why should humanitarians prepare?

The drivers for preparedness come from not just media glare on tardy and ineffective responses, but also years of lessons identified in the sector (Ashdown 2011), and increasingly from international donor policy (DfID 2017).

A cross-agency evaluation of response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti identified a need to improve the speed of response, scale and targeting and coordination among humanitarian aid organisations, and determined that responses lacked sufficient planning and needed to be better adapted to local circumstances.

As a consequence, the international humanitarian response structure was reviewed in an effort to drive improvement and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit agreed to radically improve the humanitarian system by 2030. Reviews of the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 highlighted similar issues; there is perhaps a limit to the effectiveness of response structures without a balanced emphasis on preparedness.

Few, if any, of the underlying hazards and threats mentioned above, should come as a complete surprise. The likelihood of many potential threats and risks can be assessed before they occur and monitored as they escalate into a serious emergency.

Preparedness based on a thorough analysis of the current and evolving risks and an understanding of the uncertainty associated with forecasting possible impacts allows agencies to make better-informed decisions when disasters happen.

An effectively targeted early – or even anticipatory – response from agencies will limit the impacts of the disaster, shorten recovery time and can significantly reduce the overall costs of humanitarian response and post-disaster recovery (Kellett and Peters 2014; Clarke and Dercon 2016).

Preparedness is not promoted here as a panacea to the challenges posed in the dynamic humanitarian sector, but as the international community faces decreasing funding options and requirements to respond in ever more challenging humanitarian contexts, implementing effective and coordinated preparedness measures is a necessity.

Your task

What do you understand the relationship to be between preparedness and ‘anticipatory’ response? Can you find case study examples of relatively poor humanitarian responses that might have been improved as a result of being better prepared?


Ashdown, P. (2011). ‘Humanitarian Emergency Response Review’. Humanitarian review team secretariat

Clarke, D.J. and Dercon, S., (2016). Dull Disasters?: How Planning Ahead Will Make a Difference. Oxford University Press, New York (2016) xiv, 139p License: CC BY 3.0 IGO. [online] Accessed from: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/24805 Accessed on [8 May 2019]

The Department for International Development (2017) Annual Report and Accounts 2016 to 2017 [online] available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/625548/DFID-Annual-Report-and-Accounts-2016-17.pdf [3 May 2019]

Kellett, J. and Peters, K., (2014) Dare to prepare: taking risk seriously. London, UK: Overseas Development Institute [online] Available from: https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/8748.pdf Accessed on [9 May 2019]

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Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

Coventry University