Dakar — A new drought insurance policy for Senegal will be a "game-changer" that allows aid agencies to save lives by responding more quickly to crises, charities said on Thursday.
Under the policy, funds will be released automatically when rainfall levels hit a certain low, said Start Network, a network of more than 40 national and international aid agencies.
Charities can then provide food and cash assistance to farmers before hunger strikes rather than waiting months for donors to get on board, Start Network said. The new policy was announced on Thursday.
"This is a potential game-changer," said Start Network labs manager Emily Montier.
"Slow aid funding is one of the biggest structural problems in disaster response efforts, and this costs lives."
In the most severe drought, the policy could provide cash assistance to more than 200,000 people, Start Network said.
The programme is funded by Germany through the African Risk Capacity (ARC), an agency of the African Union that provides pre-emptive disaster risk financing, primarily to governments.
Efforts to prevent climate shocks turning into hunger crises have been gaining steam in Africa, with the ARC providing insurance policies to a number of drought-prone states and paying out millions of dollars since it started in 2014.
The Start Network policy is a pilot programme for aid agencies to test the mechanism. It will complement the Senegalese government's existing ARC drought insurance policy.
If rainfall data triggers a pay-out, money will go to the state and to participating charities Catholic Relief Services, Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Plan International, World Vision and Save the Children, Start Network said.
Droughts do not normally grab donors' attention until large numbers of people are starving, by which time it is often too late to save them, said Nickie Sene, head of programmes for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Senegal.
"Even with evidence, until it's really bad, it's really hard to get funding," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
West Africa's Sahel region, including northern Senegal, has severe droughts every few years. It is still suffering the effects of the latest which hit in late 2017 and left five million people in need of food aid.
Charities including CRS sounded the alarm as early as November 2017 but could not secure funding until the following July at the peak of the crisis, Sene said.
"With the policy, we'll know much sooner exactly how much money is available and be able to collaborate better with the government beforehand in order to maximize our response," she said.
- Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst.