From left: Winnie Karanu, Microsoft Africa Initiative, Joseph Ogutu, Safaricom, chatting with UNISDR's private sector focal point, Kiki Lawal, at the launch of the private sector initiative at the 4th Africa Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
By Denis McClean
ARUSHA, 14 February 2013
- A private sector initiative for Africa was launched today by UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, at the 4th Africa Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
An inaugural meeting took place including representatives from ARUP, Microsoft, and Safaricom who shared experiences on disaster risk reduction and resilience with representatives from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, UK, Oxfam-Tanzania and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa.
Winnie Karanu, Project Manager, Microsoft Africa Initiative, said: "This effort to include the private sector in the disaster risk reduction community in Africa is timely. We have just launched a $75 million initiative to bring a million small and medium size enterprises online and ensuring business continuity after a disaster will be included in the training which we deliver."
Microsoft is moving towards supporting long-term disaster risk management for its customers in Africa, building on its experiences of providing IT support and information management to improve coordination of the humanitarian response to the drought crisis on the Horn of Africa during 2010/2011.
Similarly, Joseph Ogutu, Director of Strategy for telecom and mobile banking pioneers, Safaricom, has had first-hand experience of responding to a humanitarian crisis and realized the need to think more long-term when it comes to building business resilience and supporting the community.
"I think this UNISDR private sector initiative is excellent. It's a business imperative. We must understand better how we can mitigate against long-term risks. Business sustainability depends on it."
Mr. Ogutu recalled: "During the major drought we had in 2011 a big section of the population found they had no means of livelihood. Cattle were dying and they had no means of generating income. Famine followed. That really got the attention of the entire country and we led the process of mobilizing resources through the business community."
Now Safaricom is supporting long-term agricultural development initiatives which are building resilience among drought-affected communities by providing them with support for drilling bore holes, drip irrigation and drought-resistant seeds.
"When our customers are challenged our business is challenged. Ensuring our own business is resilient and not prone to network failures is equivalent to supporting disaster risk reduction efforts in the community. At the end of the day, it's all about disaster proofing the business we have been growing for the last twelve years and keeping faith with our 20 million customers."
Oxfam may be a non-profit but it has built a reputation for encouraging new business enterprises among the rural poor which build resilience and involve the private sector. Dr. Ralph Roothaert, Programme Coordinator, Tanzania, shared some vivid examples at the private sector round-table including the following.
Shinyanga in the Lake Victoria region has long been dependent on food aid but today 8,000 farmers are earning good money from harvesting sisal plants for fibres used to make mats, ropes, brushes and car interiors.
The business only became viable once machines known as raspadoras were brought in to decortify the tough sisal plants on the spot and reduce the cost of transporting the fibre to the nearest large town.
"In fact what we thought of as an effort to improve the value chain and help small scale producers is in fact a long-term solution for disaster risk reduction," he said.
Margareta Wahlström said: "The aim of this private sector initiative in Africa is to get more businesses to integrate disaster risk reduction into their business planning. This is a promising start and we hope to see more businesses coming on board.
"The private sector's input will be critical to the next global framework on disaster risk reduction which will be agreed in 2015. In the meantime, the private sector needs to be aware of the existing Hyogo Framework for Action as a guide to best practice in disaster-proofing their businesses and the communities in which they are located."