This study investigates the type of programmatic activities that could be suitable for Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) funding if it were to open applications for early action in anticipation of humanitarian crises. The study considers both the actions that are relevant under the CERF’s life-saving criteria, as well as the kinds of actions humanitarian agencies would like to take in advance of a crisis, but are currently unable to fund through the CERF. As it stands, the CERF’s current life-saving criteria offer significant scope for including well-planned and well-sequenced early action. Early action differs more in timing than in content from traditional humanitarian support.
Still, there is some unease about whether CERF funding could be used in an anticipatory way without falling into the amorphous category of ‘preparedness’. Interviewees for this study, except those that work on FbA projects, flattened distinctions between preparedness, early action and rapid response. Yet monitoring and analysing risks, developing contingency plans, training key stakeholders and conducting disaster scenario exercises are all general preparedness actions; they do not fall under the remit of humanitarian action in emergencies, despite being indispensable to effective early action and response. By precommitting finance and establishing triggers for action when certain risk thresholds are reached, the CERF can incentivise development and humanitarian actors to undertake new kinds of preparedness activities. In turn, these actors can take advantage of significant cost and time savings by acting in advance of emergencies.
In the midst of debates about anticipatory action, it is easy to forget that lives are at stake. The CERF choosing to act earlier is not simply an operational shift reflecting the latest fad in humanitarian action, but a change that will have genuine implications for people enduring droughts, fleeing violence and conflict or living in proximity to an outbreak of a deadly and contagious illness. For vulnerable families, receiving support earlier can mean the difference between devastation and resilience.