Photo credit: Caritas Manila

Lessons Learned from COVID-19: How the Private Sector can support disaster prevention, response, and recovery

By Karen Smith, Programme Coordinator, Connecting Business initiative

COVID-19 has changed everything and made it clear that we need new ways of operating. It has also reinforced the importance of the local private sector role in addressing societal challenges.

There were myriad situations where COVID-19 was an additional layer on pre-existing crises, ranging from natural hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes to manmade crises such as the refugee crisis or conflict. How does such a “confluence of crises” affect businesses, communities, and entire economies? In the experience of the Connecting Business initiative (CBi) – a platform transforming the way the private sector engages before, during and after crises – these situations drive home the importance the national private sector, resilience and preparedness, as well as collective action and collaboration as a critical part of local response.

What has also been reinforced during the pandemic is that investing in the preparedness and resilience of communities and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as the private sector as a whole is an economic imperative.

For example, a recent report by Business for Goals (B4G) in Turkey highlighted that the Marmara earthquake the country experienced 20 years ago claimed the lives of approximately 17,000 people and inflicted losses on more than 30,000 enterprises, causing economic damages of approximately USD 27 billion. An equivalent event today would likely cause larger losses still, a clear call to action to invest in the resilience of businesses of all sizes. Other surveys by B4G on the impact of COVID-19 showed a significant impact on businesses and that Syrian-owned businesses were more significantly affected by the pandemic, with 38% of them declaring a full stop of operations compared to 22% of other businesses in the country.

Investing in community resilience and preparedness is essential for risk mitigation and effective disaster response. In Haiti, the Alliance pour la Gestion des Risques et la Continuité des Activités (AGERCA) network carried out campaigns built on information sharing through broad business networks, providing training around health and safety measures as well as distributing hygiene kits to contribute to community preparedness and mitigate risks. When Tropical Storm Laura hit, in an unfortunate example of a confluence of crises, AGERCA sent more than two million text messages and provided phone credit to the National Emergency Center to facilitate communications between departments. Now, preparedness interventions are combining COVID-19 information sharing and reminders about hurricane season.

In Sri Lanka, the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management Sri Lanka (A-PAD SL) network has taken a collective and collaborative approach, joining hands with HSBC Bank and other private sector partners to support government efforts by providing healthcare essentials and ration support to frontline workers, communities and the health sector. A-PAD Japan joined Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 resistance efforts by offering solid support to the country in partnership with A-PAD Sri Lanka, providing an array of healthcare essentials to the Disaster Management Center (DMC).

The importance of collective action was also highlighted by efforts led by the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF). As part of their activities during the pandemic, they collectively raised the equivalent of USD 30 million through Project Ugnayan, to fund the distribution of grocery vouchers to 14.2 million people in the poor communities of the greater Manila area. The network also recently launched the SIKAP platform, an online business recovery hub to help micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) prepare for COVID-19 recovery and reopen as they bounce forward to the “next normal”.

In Vanuatu, the COVID-19 lockdown led to a scarcity in humanitarian personnel and resources which coincided when Tropical Cyclone Harold struck. Working with private sector partners and in collaboration with NGOs and the United Nations (UN) and in support of the government, the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC) assisted in supplying over 1,000 remote coastal households with 35 tonnes of food and non-food items over an eight-week period. This local multi-stakeholder response was critical in mitigating the impact and damages caused by the cyclone.

While the pandemic has been a difficult situation across borders, it has also brought to the forefront that challenging times can align agendas and priorities, generating political will from many actors to strengthen multi-stakeholder collaboration. It has also created more space for the local private sector to engage and be active in disaster response and recovery. And as it turns out, having less resources is not always an impediment when passionate, dedicated individuals champion collective and collaborative cross-sectoral action.

If that describes you, what are you and your business doing to contribute to the resilience of the community (or communities) you are a part of?

Have you found that COVID-19 also aligned agendas and priorities? If so, how?

The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) is a platform transforming the way the private sector engages before, during and after crises. It is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Editor’s Note:

This article is part of the content for Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, a one-week, online conference (21 to 25 September) that builds on our recent online conference Business Fights Poverty Online 2020 (13 to 17 July) to drive forward connection, conversations and collaboration around how we rebuild better – how together we create an equitable and resilient world. The week consists of inspiring and engaging content, live events, peer networking and community-led learning. The week also builds on our Business and COVID-19 Response with Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, and supported by DFID and a number of our corporate partners.

Each day, we will focus on a specific theme: Imagining the Future We Want (Monday); Creating an Equitable World (Tuesday); Helping People Survive and Thrive (Wednesday); Building Resilient Livelihoods (Thursday); Shaping System-Level Partnerships (Friday).

If you were unable to join these sessions you can access all of the recordings and summaries with a Digital Pass. You can watch the opening sessions and musical performances via the links on the event page.

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