Moving Beyond Dollars and Cents

Jun 16, 2011
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Besides donations, the private sector also has the skills and assets that can prove useful when a disaster strikes.

976 Disasters are no stranger to Indonesia: A woman cries while searching for family members amidst the ruins of her collapsed home in Meulaboh, Aceh on 2 January, 2005. Meulaboh, the capital of West Aceh Regency, was one of the hardest hit areas. Photo: Jefri AriesPrivate companies have enormous resources in terms of skilled people and know-how, and this resource, rather than their financial muscle, can and should be tapped into when disasters hit Indonesia, officials say.

Disaster-prone Indonesia will localize the World Economic Forum’s global Disaster Resource Partnership (DRP) by strengthening coordination between their public and private sectors and NGOs in natural disaster response and preparedness, and plans to formalize this new relationship at the two-day World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta starting on 12 June.

“The private sector is relatively untapped in its ability to help in a disaster,” Petra Demarin, senior project manager of the global DRP headquartered in Geneva, told IRIN.

“They [the private sector] are usually seen as a donor and source of funding whereas in fact they have skills and assets, whether it is bulldozers or concrete.”

While private companies are often involved in disaster response, without proper planning and communication, talents and skills can be lost in the chaos when a disaster strikes.

“The private sector needs to look inside itself and identify what expertise it has to offer humanitarian operations,” said Ignacio Leon-Garcia, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Indonesia, which is facilitating the development of Indonesia’s DRP.

The private sector is relatively untapped in its ability to help in a disaster

Demarin pointed out that in previous disasters it has not been uncommon to see a telecommunications company distributing food, instead of establishing communications, for instance.

Details yet to be worked out

DRPs have been launched in India and Mexico, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced in January that he wanted to launch the initiative in his own country. It is still unclear how this effort, the first to be led by the government, will be different from previous partnership arrangements. Discussions on this are due to take place in the coming months.

Director of Central Cipta Murdaya Holding, an Indonesian construction and engineering firm with a long history of disaster response and a member of the new DRP, said he had seen a lack of coordination and communication in previous natural disasters.

The construction and engineering industry is very well positioned to help manage difficult situations

“By no means was there a lack of good will from other countries and Indonesia itself when disasters struck, but a lot of the time, how to direct that support and aid was what was needed most. In this regard, the construction and engineering industry is very well positioned to help manage difficult situations.”

While the original concept of the partnership focused on these two sectors, more companies can and should play a role, said OCHA’s Leon-Garcia.

“At the end of the day, we have to see how we can improve our response to those who are suffering or how we can help. Our ultimate objective is to help people who have been affected or will be affected by natural disasters.”

This article was first published in IRIN.