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Why should humanitarians prepare?

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

A cross-agency evaluation of response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti identified a need to improve the speed of response, scale, 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 hazards and threats that cause wide-area disasters 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 before and when disasters happen.

An effectively targeted early – or even anticipatory – response from agencies can limit the impacts of the disaster, shorten recovery time and 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. However, 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.


Ashdown, P. (2011) Humanitarian Emergency Response Review [online] available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/humanitarian-emergency-response-review [28 April 2020]

Clarke, D. J., and Dercon, S. (2016). Dull Disasters?: How Planning Ahead Will Make a Difference [online] New York: Oxford University Press. available from https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198785576.001.0001 [28 April 2020]

Department for International Development (DfID) (2017) Annual Report and Accounts 2016 to 2017 [online] available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfid-annual-report-and-accounts-2016-17 [28 April 2020]

Kellett, J., and Peters, K. (2014) Dare to prepare: taking risk seriously [online] available from https://www.odi.org/publications/7955-dare-prepare-taking-risk-seriously [28 April 2020]

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Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

Coventry University