Relevant learning for Malawi's response to cyclone Freddy

To aid humanitarian colleagues working on the response to Cyclone Freddy, we’ve drawn together some lessons from previous cyclones, floods and landslides covering immediate response and early recovery.

At the end there are also some lessons from ALNAP's paper on adapting humanitarian action to climate change that are relevant to immediate response or early recovery.

For further information please see the links under each section.

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Immediate response: lessons from Cyclone Idai, Mozambique (IASC response evaluation)

The rapid joint aerial damage assessment informed early life-saving operations, enabled agencies to identify hard-to-reach areas and supported the implementation of a ‘no-one left behind’ benchmark. The decision to delegate some responsibilities for the coordination of air operations to one INGO in the Logistics Cluster was a key factor.

There was an exceptional degree of coordination between UN, IFRC and NGO networks, resulting in more timely and effective action and better delivery of assistance to people in need.

Protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) was an integral component of the response from Day 1. Implementation started with concrete actions during the first days of the response, including messaging via community radio stations, the formation of a PSEA Network, and the establishment of a clear referral pathway that directly involved the senior leadership. Visual information was prioritised in materials for community engagement.

Some agencies deployed a ‘no regrets’ approach to pre-financing the response, advancing funds from their reserves to enable the response to get off to a quick start. Donors should consider mechanisms for helping agencies recoup these funds.

Read more about the lessons learned from the Cyclone Idai response in the IASC report, pp54.

Lessons from flood response and early recovery operations

Needs assessments should incorporate existing knowledge, and be flexible. If an agency is familiar with the capacities of a flood-affected community and the likely impacts, a needs assessment can be limited to identifying the affected areas, the extent to which they are affected, and the scale of the response by other actors. Needs change over time, and needs assessments that are not kept updated can quickly become irrelevant.

Joint assessments can mobilise more resources and address access constraints, while single agency assessments can overlook the involvement of other agencies and impede coordination and joint prioritisation.

Floods are not short-term events, and response plans and budgets must take the long term into account.

As needs become more complex during the long impact period following flooding, the use of cash grants allows affected families to assess their own needs and act accordingly.

Risk reduction work should be built into the response, using heightened awareness of flooding to reduce the risk from future floods. Take care that response actions do not increase the vulnerability of affected communities to future flooding events.

Read more about the lessons learned from previous flood relief and recovery operations.

Response adaptations to consider in the context of climate change-related disasters and tropical storms

Humanitarian actors and partners – especially at the local level – should recognise and support immediately any effective informal first-response networks or citizen-led  responses.

Ensure that disaster responses to tropical storms take account of potential secondary effects, such as flash floods, landslides and disease.

Humanitarian actors, their partners and affected communities should make use of available information and communication technologies, from dedicated tools to user-generated data systems. Such systems for informing populations and communities generate a ‘bottom-up’ flow of information that improves emergency management. During Hurricane Matthew (2016), social media tools helped to identify affected areas, organise search and rescue, and monitor evacuation and recovery procedures. 

Women are key actors in managing unknown risks and should be properly supported and empowered in preparing and responding to new dynamics of tropical storms.

In preparation for future climate-related disasters in the area, ensure that planned early actions are realistic. Realistic timeframes must consider local conditions and constraints, including logistics, communications and local delivery capacity. Organisations that have a continual local presence can be effective vehicles for early action. Humanitarian groups should work with development and climate actors using joint analysis and common standards, and co-design climate change programmes with vulnerable people and groups.

Read more about adapting humanitarian action in response to climate change.

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