20 May 2013
GENEVA, 20 May (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) — The private sector is increasingly committed to disaster risk reduction, but more should be done to develop its partnerships with the public sector and communities, said business representatives attending consultations today at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The theme for this year’s platform, hosted by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), which officially opens tomorrow in Geneva and runs for three days until 23 May, is “invest today for a safer tomorrow”.
Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, addressing the first Annual General Meeting of the Private Sector Partnership for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that the past two to three years had been very important ones for motivating and engaging the private sector in disaster risk reduction, as attested by the number of businesspeople attending the meeting. However, a strong, simpler and more focused vision was needed of why and how the private sector would be part of such efforts after 2015, when new international frameworks for development will be adopted.
Aris Papadopoulos, CEO of Titan America and Chairperson of the Advisory Group, said that since business was about “doing things and making things happen”, the Group hoped to be not just an advisory group but a catalyst for action, working to promote public and private partnerships. Its efforts to form a network of private-sector entities for sharing information and best practices had shown there were many untapped opportunities for such collaboration.
Although both public and private sector were more aware of the issues than in the past, said Sandra Wu, Chairperson and CEO, Kokusai Kogyo Co., Ltd., it was now time to “move on and set goals and find solutions”, as well as to develop further private-public sector initiatives. Such dialogue should specifically address funding for disaster risk prevention, added Dale Sands, Managing Director, Environment, Europe, Middle East and Africa, AECOM Technology.
Also this morning, case studies were presented on how the Japanese private sector has used core business partnerships to enhance disaster risk reduction and finance the country’s rebuilding after the recent earthquakes. Presenters outlined the role of Philippine business owners in strengthening disaster preparedness and resilience, including by synthesizing collective knowledge. The history of public- and private-sector cooperation in San Francisco in facing such past and future threats such as rising sea levels and heat waves was also explained.
“Although the relationship between the public and private sector has not always been one of trust,” said Caroline Woolley, EMEA Risk and Property Practice Leader at Marsh, UK, it was being improved as the private sector shared its insurance expertise, warning systems and relevant technologies with communities.
Other discussants stressed the areas of concern to be addressed by the private sector, including the quality of buildings, the resilience of the wider environment, and developing and penetrating a high-risk insurance market in which transparency was a key factor. Both public and private sectors could collaborate more on locating missing persons and sharing mapping and monitoring information, which helped not only in disaster prevention but also in effective local and national management. Businesses from the developing world should also be given a greater role in the process.
Andrew Maskrey, Coordinator of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, just released by the United Nations, said the report, aimed at Governments, the private sector and society at large, tried to make the business case for disaster risk reduction. The worst disasters between 2011 and 2012, which had had a dramatic impact on business, had acted as a wake-up call. Globalization had led to large investments in hazard-prone regions, but disaster risk had been something of a blind spot, and insurance should play a greater role in disaster risk prevention. Fortunately, regulators were increasingly asking businesses to expose their disaster risk and investors were increasingly asking where their money was going.
There was some danger of becoming “too disaster-centric”, one speaker said, warning that the international community might be losing its way in terms of measuring risks and increasing resilience. There were many assessment tools, sometimes in direct competition with one another. The United Nations and other stakeholders should adopt a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction which included assessing whether, or to what extent, the environmental impact of businesses actually increased disaster risk.
Disaster risk reduction had traditionally been part of business continuity planning, which was a form of response but which did not necessarily build resilience. It was nonetheless encouraging to see how much more interest there now was in the issue than five years ago. Clearly, partnerships were crucial, but making them effective would also require a framework and guidelines.
Speakers also noted that while continuity was important, companies tended to be “super-tankers” where change was difficult to instil. Due diligence was frequently not exercised, resulting in greater risk exposure. “The private sector is part of the problem, but also part of the solution,” Mr. Papadopoulos said. Key questions were how to get more businesses involved in disaster risk management and how science could bring the public and private sectors together
For use of the information media; not an official record