The Fort McMurray wildfire was a key test for the resilience of businesses in Canada (Photo: DarrenRD)
By Jonathan Fowler
MONTREAL, Canada, 8 March 2017 – Canadian businesses have joined a UN-backed drive to bolster resilience to natural and human-induced hazards, sending a strong signal during the Americas region’s top disaster risk reduction conference.
“There is a clear mutual interest for the public and private sectors to work together, as the private sector relies on the resilience of public infrastructure and services to conduct their businesses, and governments and communities depend on resilient business practices for a stable and sustainable economy,” said Mr. David Greenall, Director of Sustainable Business Solutions at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the initiators of the creation of the Canada chapter of the UNISDR Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, known for short as ARISE.
“ARISE Canada responds to a deep, broad-based desire from Canada’s business community for collaboration, and for a safe, secure space for more effective public and private sector sharing of knowledge and experience to accelerate the implementation of good practice and encourage disaster risk-sensitive investment,” he said during a session dedicated to the private sector at the 5th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas.
Canada faces a cocktail of hazards such as floods and wildfires – the massive blaze last year around the oil town of Fort McMurray was a key test, noted Mr. Craig Stewart, Vice-President of Federal Affairs at the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
“We believe that ARISE has tremendous promise in ensuring that the private sector is engaged early on, that private sector tools can be disseminated, and of course that ARISE encourages companies to take measures to identity their own disaster risk and to limit it,” he added.
ARISE was created in November 2015. It aims to leverage business resilience know-how and encourage investment decisions that take disaster risk into account, in order to help the private sector to play its role in implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015.
“The private sector and governments need each other if society is to become more resilient,” said Ms. Kiki Lawal, ARISE’s global coordinator at UNISDR.
ARISE is a voluntary group of more than 140 companies and organizations, headquartered in 38 nations and active in 150 countries around the world. Members work on seven themes: disaster risk management strategies; insurance; investment metrics; benchmarking and standards; education and training; legal and regulatory; and urban risk and resilience.
ARISE has been developing apace in the Americas. The creation of the Canadian chapter follows the foundation of counterparts in Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Peru, while a US version is in the pipeline.
Further afield, there are national networks in the Philippines and Japan, and plans to establish groups in Mongolia and India.
In the event of a disaster, the cascading impacts result in losses far beyond that of the principal investor. The resilience of businesses is critical – whether they are one-person operations or multinationals whose supply chain disruptions can sow global havoc – notably because the private sector is responsible for 75 percent of investment in infrastructure.
A focus on the private sector is crucial, given that global disaster losses are swelling owing to factors including climate change, rapid urbanization and the expected growth of risk-exposed assets. This growth in risky investments is often due to a lack of adequately costing disaster risk, coupled with high profit margins for investments in many areas exposed to earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, floods and other hazards.
“This is a critical issue for us, with urbanization, the new construction that’s occurring, and with the increasingly frequency and intensity of hazards. That’s why we really need to come together, the public and private sector,” said Mr. Dale Sands, Senior Vice President and Global Practice Director at global engineering company CH2M, which has 1,500 staff in Canada.