Collaborating for disaster preparedness: A role for business

Climate related and natural disasters inflict economic losses of up to US$300 billion globally each year, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and an estimated 1.35 million lives have been lost in such events over the past two decades.

Amongst the top three countries with the highest death tolls as a share of their population is Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Inevitably, it is the poor, who are least resilient, that are worst affected by disasters. There is an urgent need to research ways in which such communities can be helped to be more resilient and batter prepared for the inevitabilities of disasters.

Within Asia there is a need for much more collaboration in researching disaster science, disaster preparedness and disaster responses. But a recent report from the global publisher Elsevier suggests that there is inadequate finding of such disaster research in the countries that are most at risk of disasters. Many developing countries do not have specific funding sources for disaster research.

One area where there needs to be more efforts is in making infrastructure more disaster resilient. Developing countries are now spending huge amounts on investment in infrastructure but much of it does not adequately consider disaster related risks. That, in turn also needs there to be more advocacy around preparedness and resilience.

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s Science Technology Advisory Group, argues that a large amount of the research focused on visible disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, typhoons and hurricanes., but that there ought also to be a greater focus on the “invisible” disasters such as droughts, water scarcity, sea level rise, or heat waves.

There needs also to be more research on how the longer term consequences of disasters can have impacts on whole communities and future livelihoods. For example, research in Vietnam that showed how drought was linked with a fall in children’s school attendance.

Disasters relating to climate change impacts are also affecting other issues such as food security or health or even conflict between two countries or within a countries’ different communities.

In another piece of research published recently, other researchers warned of a possible increase in the likelihood of intense earthquakes next year owing to a periodic slowing of the Earth’s rotation. In the past the cyclical slowing of the Earth’s rotation has been linked to increased numbers of earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater, according to Roger Bilham from the University of Colorado Boulder and Rebecca Bendick from the University of Montana.

Their paper, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, took into account seismic data stretching back to 1900. They argue that the correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year.

Whatever the source of increased disaster activity now is the time to prepare for that. Whether related to climate change or more natural phenomena, experts are all of the view that there needs to be more collaboration around disaster preparedness and planning. This inevitable, will include the private sector and we should look to businesses to play their part in mitigating the risks associated with disasters.

The private sector can begin to engage with the climate change and natural disaster related threats in the following ways:

  1. Engage in preparatory climate change adaptation strategies. Be prepared for the inevitable infrastructure damage, business disruptions and supply chain threats that climate change will bring. Think about business continuity planning and the ways that climate change can materially affect business, staff and the value chain.
  2. Get involved in disaster preparedness strategies. Whilst business have often provide effective in responding to disasters there is a role for them to be proactive in preparing for an increase in disasters associated with freak weather, sea level rises and hotter temperatures. Think about ways in which to use existing capacity, knowledge and skills sets to prepare for the unpredictable.
  3. Move from philanthropy towards pro-poor development strategies that help poor people to build the capacity to deal with the inevitable consequences of climate change disasters. A focus on community investment strategies, social business development and capacity building is a powerful way to use corporate resources to good effect.
  4. Prepare for the future by engaging and developing the people who are going to be most affected by the changing climate: the young. Whilst the concept of sustainable development stresses future generations, we often do not engage with young people sufficiently well to work out what their future needs are and in building skills sets to respond to those needs.
  5. Engage in strategies that can mitigate and respond to environmental refugees. This is about helping to build alternatives for people likely to lose land, resources and their ability to generate income. Work with governments and other agencies to tackle the refugee crisis before it happens. Plan to rehabilitate refugees by helping them to develop ways to generate alterative incomes.
  6. Where appropriate, think about ways in which the business can transfer appropriate technologies to help communities to respond to climate change threats. In particular, think about technologies that can protect and preserve water resources.
  7. Help to fund and develop micro-finance and micro-insurance initiatives that can help people to develop their own responses to climate change and which collectively have the capacity to compensate poor people for losses associated from unpredictable climate change disasters.
  8. Build the capacity now to build capacity in the future. We simply do not understand enough about the ways in which we can tackle climate change adaptation and the most effective ways of targeting community investment towards pro-poor development and climate change adaptation. Businesses should consider funding research so that we can be better prepared to tackle the inevitabilities of climate change in the future.
  9. Help to build awareness within the business, amongst staff and the public more generally about the ways in which climate change will disproportionately affect the world’s poor. Think about ways in which employee volunteering, skills volunteering and fund-raising efforts can focus on poor people and potential refugees.
  10. Work in partnership with civil society organizations, universities, research institutes, think tanks and consultancies to develop strategies to target those most affected by disasters. Lobby governments, intergovernmental agencies and others with influence to be part of a new partnership to respond to climate change.