Listening to those in crisis: understanding perspectives on anticipatory action in Somalia

In 2021, several UN agencies launched an anticipatory action framework to prepare for the drought in Somalia. 60 Decibels interviewed 1,400 respondents a year later to understand its impact.

By Jasleen Kaur and Devin Olmack. This blog was originally published on Anticipation Hub. Download the full report below.

Somalia is prone to erratic and extreme weather patterns, which contribute to recurrent food and nutrition crises. With support from OCHA, several humanitarian organizations used data on food insecurity and climate, which is widely available in Somalia, to launch an anticipatory action framework for drought. This includes triggers, funding and pre-agreed actions that can be implemented when there are early signs of drought. This process was led by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, in collaboration with the government of Somalia and with support from technical partners, donors and the World Bank.

In February 2021, the high probability of drought in Somalia, combined with forecasts of increased food insecurity, met the thresholds to trigger this framework. In April 2021, 20 million US dollars (around 18.7 million euros) from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) was allocated to seven UN agencies: FAO, IOM, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. This remains one of the largest payouts for anticipatory action ahead of a drought. As such, it is a great opportunity to learn about anticipatory action and bolster this approach within the humanitarian system. This blog presents findings from an assessment of this activation, conducted by OCHA and 60 Decibels, which focused on how target populations perceived these actions.

Cross-sectoral anticipatory assistance at scale

The CERF allocation supported actions across five sectors: (1) food security and livelihoods; (2) health; (3) nutrition; (4) protection; and (5) water and hygiene. Specifically, it enabled the agencies involved to:

  • extend access to water to 138,000 people, through the construction and rehabilitation of water infrastructure
  • deliver agricultural and livestock inputs to 37,000 farmers and pastoralists
  • provide cash transfers to over 110,000 people, helping them meet their basic food needs and address protection risks
  • distribute hygiene and dignity kits to more than 10,000 women and adolescent girls
  • ensure the timely and preventative treatment of malnutrition and communicable diseases.

Overall, these actions assisted over 660,000 people, including 125,000 people with disabilities, ahead of the peak impacts of the drought.

A human-centric approach

60 Decibels believes that the best way to understand how an intervention has affected an individual’s life is to listen directly to their experience. This human-centric approach was applied to the assessment in Somalia where, between February and August 2022, a team of local researchers held telephone interviews with over 1,400 recipients of the CERF-funded assistance.

Unsurprisingly, this revealed that most people were severely affected the drought, which occurred between May and October 2021. Around 4 in 5 recipients felt it was ‘extreme’, and it forced 1 in 4 to relocate. It directly affected income sources as well: 13 per cent of recipient households mentioned having no income source at the time of the interview, compared to only 1 per cent prior to May 2021. The drought also pushed people towards work that does not rely on the weather, such as small businesses or manual labor, and away from rainfed crop farming, which was the main source of income beforehand.

Recipients were satisfied with the assistance

The Net Promoter Score – a common gauge of loyalty and satisfaction – was 57, which indicates that the recipients were satisfied with the anticipatory assistance. In particular, they valued: its usefulness and relevance; being able to afford food and water during a protracted crisis; and improved access to clean water and household hygiene. This could be due to the nature of the assistance provided. For example, cash is useful for immediate expenses (e.g., food, water, debt repayments) while livelihood inputs support longer-term recovery. Around 4 in 5 recipients reported improvements to their quality of life and that they felt better emotionally and physically.

“My life changed because of the assistance. I stopped hovering around and asking people for help such as loans, and I also paid most of my debts. I had the opportunity to take care of my children as a mother, and not a father, for the first time after so long.”

Female respondent, aged 42

The assistance was timely – but its adequacy can be improved

Around 9 in 10 recipients were very satisfied with the timeliness of the assistance, describing how it came “at the right time” and allowed them to prepare for, and cope with, the drought. Of those who could recall when they received assistance, two-thirds mentioned May to October 2021. Encouragingly, this was the period that recipients described as their “better months” in 2021, which suggests it helped them offset the drought’s worst impacts. The end of 2021 was commonly reported as the most difficult period, perhaps because recipients had exhausted the assistance by then.

However, only a quarter of recipients reported that the assistance received met ‘all’ or ‘most’ of their needs. Of the remainder, the majority said it met only ‘some’ of their needs. This indicates that while the agencies delivered timely assistance, there is scope to improve its adequacy and help recipients better prepare for and cope with drought.

Looking ahead: recipients share their ideas

When asked about how they could be supported ahead of future droughts, the top suggestions were food and cash support. These have the potential to reduce recipients’ reliance on credit and avoid any debt traps they may be facing. As one female recipient, aged 40, noted: “The assistance is only for the drought period. It is little and did not cover daily expenses. We need sufficient assistance and money to buy livestock and recover from the drought.”

It was also interesting to note that recipients who were given both cash and other forms of assistance reported higher satisfaction levels than those who received only cash, with respective Net Promoter Scores of 66 and 53. The former group were also more likely to report having recovered from the drought and being better off (34 per cent versus 19 per cent). While this could be linked to multiple factors, it suggests that ‘bundled’ assistance – cash plus other forms – is likely to promote greater recovery from climate shocks and improve the impact of anticipatory action. An exercise is currently underway to better understand the impacts of cash as an anticipatory action.

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