An image of the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami

Industry leaders discuss role in responding to global disasters

Ways of bringing the private and humanitarian sectors together to respond to global disasters was discussed last week.

In a round table discussion led by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, executives from BT, Mott MacDonald, Prudential, South East Water, Swiss Re and UBS said that as the number of people caught up in emergencies grows year on year improved collaboration between humanitarian agencies and corporate companies is something that must be addressed.

The meeting, also attended by the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) acting permanent secretary and facilitated by disaster relief charity RedR, highlighted the need for new platforms to bring private, humanitarian and state actors together, facilitated by honest brokers, to discuss how to reach key goals and objectives.

Many private sector companies were increasingly viewing a commitment to humanitarian relief as part of sustainable business model, rather than exclusively under corporate social responsibility portfolios – in part due to the high levels of social commitment among their staff.

Prudential director of corporate communications Jane Atkin said during the recruitment process more people were asking what companies did in the area of humanitarian relief, she said.

The panel also highlighted:

  • An ongoing need to build resilience to major disasters at a local level, by investing in skills and capacities of local communities and supporting global disaster risk reduction.
  • The appetite for strong analytical and qualitative research, backed by both the private and humanitarian sectors, to identify further examples of good practice to inform and inspire.
  • The vital role many private sector companies are already playing to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response – from TNT’s partnership with the World Food Programme to BT’s work restoring communications to flood-hit communities in Pakistan following the devastating 2010 floods.

The round table follows a recent government-commissioned review into how the UK should respond to global humanitarian crises, led by Lord Paddy Ashdown.

The Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) warns of the growing number of worldwide disasters – and urges increased collaboration between the humanitarian and private sectors if future challenges of UK humanitarian response are to be met.

According to the review, by 2015 around 375 million people will be affected by climate-related disasters every year, while other rapid onset emergencies and the impact of conflict will affect many more.

RedR chief executive Martin McCann said: “What is needed now is an honest dialogue between businesses, NGOs and the private sector with a swift move to action. Deals need to be made and processes set up.

“Today’s round table shows that there is clear agreement at the highest levels that investing in emergency response makes good human sense – as well as good business sense. I have no doubt that we are entering an exciting new phase of collaboration which will, in time, lead to reduced suffering and faster recovery following major global emergencies,” McCann said.

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