SEATTLE — The Start Network, consisting of 42 aid agencies from five continents, seeks to challenge and improve the prevailing global system of humanitarian aid. Currently, the network is developing a project modeled to advance drought response.
When drought hits a region, the devastating effects are felt gradually. It can take months until crop failures and dying livestock result in famine for rural populations. Families’ assets erode slowly as they react to the crises by selling their livestock and pulling children from school.
According to the Start Network, this can lead to a “spiral of destitution and malnutrition” and can impact a region’s poorest citizens for decades. Humanitarian aid usually only reaches the distressed citizens when the drought has already turned into a hunger crisis.
Start Network is developing its pilot Drought Financing Facility with which it aims to give aid months earlier and avert the crises at their roots. Funding will be raised in advance; the money will then be partially held in a reserve and partially used to fund insurances for larger emergencies.
With science-based models, the risks of drought and the expected damage may be calculated early. Through contingency planning, the Start Network seeks to develop plans for different crisis scenarios in order to achieve better coordination among all actors. Funding is to be released to NGOs operating in the affected country early – as soon as the drought emerges. The organizations will thus be able to react quickly and effectively in the region. By pooling funds in an international network, drought response shall become more cost-efficient.
The Start Network is planning to test its model to advance drought response in Zimbabwe and Pakistan, both of which have suffered severely from drought in recent years. Southern Africa experienced the driest year in decades in 2016, resulting in a food shortage for five million Zimbabweans, half of the country’s rural population.
In Pakistan, water scarcity has been an ongoing problem for years. Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert from the Woodrow Wilson Center, has expressed concern over the drought’s possible effects of unrest and violent conflict among the population. He criticized the inaction of the Pakistani government in recent years.
But in February, the country’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) announced its cooperation to work on the pilot project with the Start Network and test its potential to advance drought response in provinces like Sindh, where drought has heightened rates of malnutrition, poverty and infant mortality in recent years.
Emily Montier, the manager of the Start Network’s drought project, told Reuters that the organization’s model will help shift humanitarian aid from reaction to anticipation. In the future, similar approaches might be helpful in crises caused by other natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.
– Lena Riebl