Sharing the Value in Disasters

Deciding the world’s climate future, the COP21 summit in Paris continues with implications for all. Coverage, now somewhat muted in the second week, continues to pick up on the tantalising signs of progress, a still elusive concord, and the disparate views inherent to such global conclaves.

Yet the COP21 is just one of several global initiatives that will frame the socio-economic development trajectory to 2030. Indeed, in anticipation of the MDG’s expiry in 2015, the world has been caught up in an orgy of consultation that, to one degree or another, will be cited in national, regional and global development policies for the next 15 years.

Much of this enthusiasm has not been derived from the MDGs’ “success”, but that they ably demonstrated a global ability to unite and work toward uniform targets. It has set an enormous precedent, for which the world has now been handed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are influencing the COP21 discussions. The SDGs have approached global priorities holistically, for which credit must be given, but have yet to inspire the same support.

The success of MDGs, best expressed in the support they garnered, was their simplicity. Quantified, apolitical, numerical targets. They helped reverse a decline in aid spending that had accelerated since 1989 and the formal end of the cold war. The SDGs, however, are more abstract.

Gone are the concrete numerical targets, opting instead for the tantalising but vague objectives surrounding ‘substantive reductions’. Moreover, the 18 goals, too numerous for effective communication, require clear policy changes to be effected, particularly in the fight against equality. Yet they also lack a strong institutional basis to guide implementation and monitoring.

While they are not in themselves a hard sell, they present considerable practical and policy hurdles that will require the collaboration of all sectors. This also represents a considerable opportunity for further engagement by and with the private sector.

Privately Engaged
This was the focus of two discussions at the 8th Practitioners’ Workshop on Risk Reduction and Resilience in Asia, hosted by IFRC, UNDP, FAO, the EC and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre in Bangkok last month, led by SVA.

Tied into the SDGs and COP21 discussions is the growing focus on disaster risk reduction. It’s not a particularly high profile discipline. From 1991 to 2010 it received just US$12.6bn in funding relative to the US$3.03trn spent in aid and development, but it is of growing importance.

The nascent twenty-first century still beckons with the promise of shared prosperity for all, yet this requires addressing a manifold set of issues; economic, ecological, social and political.

These have been identified in the latest policy document to be adopted this year – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), the third since Yokohama in 1994. While voluminous in detail, it can be synthesised into one convenient sentence, “The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”

It’s an appealing elevator pitch and in Asia specifically, this is amplified by synchronised growth in economic and population pressures. Here the ever-present threat from disasters also looms large, disproportionately impacting those in the lower socio-economic strata.

Reform Reform Reform
These are circumstances that will require the collaboration of every sector. Indeed this is not news and business is not an unwilling partner. Yet many in the development arena continue to be seemingly silo-ed, operating in vocabulary defined by ‘donors’, not ‘partners’, and a propensity to consider legislation before incentives for business.

Leading international NGOs and civil society organisations are ahead of the curve on this, but national and sub-national agencies have room left to improve. The importance of this grows ever stronger with outdated CSR modalities quickly dying.

Business is a lead implementing agency in many projects and demands equal programme inclusion when partnering with others so as to be more effective and present on the ground. Yet in sentiments expressed across Asia, business also requires greater accountability and compatibility, particularly in accounting and management frameworks, amongst national and sub-national agencies.

Without internal reform to better work with a more inclusive array of institutions and partners the years to 2030 may see many organisations wither and die on the vine.

In a telling response to the question ‘what do you see as a good partnership and contribution from business?’ posed by one private sector representative to the 150 senior programme personnel attending in Bangkok the floor was silent.

In all this, however, that the private sector is not one homogenous entity cannot be forgotten. While the temptation to generalise and speak of the private sector as a partner able to deploy resources and expertise in large quantities is apparent, it is mis-leading. It remains a sector also in need of great assistance.

Private Problems
The economic foundations of many nations is small to medium enterprises and smallholding farmers. Most do not have the resources or means to prepare adequately for disasters. They are as dependent on government and civil society assistance for education and relief as are others. How to ensure that information for them is accessible, understood and even known about remain elementary hurdles yet to be overcome.

B2B partnerships, visible perhaps most prominently in supply chain management and continuity planning, are rapidly expanding. Assistance being lent to those beyond immediate business partners is already well established and a popular philanthropic activity, but too few of these initiatives focus on disaster preparedness and mitigation.

While disaster response programmes are commonplace, initiatives with a focus on disaster and risk mitigation, such as the Prudence Foundation’s Safe Steps programme or the Intercontinental Hotel Group’s ‘Shelter in a Storm’, are worryingly few. It is an oversight that endangers societies, their resilience and economic recovery.

With sustainability now an established competitive edge, business tool and pre-determinant for both millennial consumers and job-seekers, DRR is set to feature more prominently in the business landscape and will soon prove to be everyone’s business in the twenty first century.

Oliver J. Fall is Content Director of SharingValueAsia.