In a recent article published by Devex, an online source of international development news, it was suggested that private sector engagement in the Indonesian disaster response has created a number of coordination and planning challenges. Indonesia has been struck by a trio of disasters:
- First, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake caused a 3m (10 feet) tsunami in Mentawai, Sumatra, killing at least 400 people and displacing more than 11,500;
- followed by the eruption of Mt Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, displacing nearly 300,000 people in Java;
- lastly, while the archipelago nation was still reeling from the effects of the tsunami and volcanic eruption, bad weather and volcanic ash complicated aid delivery, while aftershocks in the area caused people to flee for the hills.
Some private sector engagement in such situations has been fragmented and lacked coordination with NGOs. However, as Titi Moektijasih (a humanitarian affairs analyst at the UN OCHA) points out, compared to government and NGO relief programs, in such disasters the private sector is more familiar with the area and is therefore able to provide immediately effective aid. For example, telecommunications provider Indostat played a key role in re-connecting the region’s internet, enabling the disaster-response team access to the Merapi disaster mitigation database run by a local NGO, Combine, providing updated information on aid distribution and volcanic activity. In Haiti, private disaster response unit Team Rubicon, which was started by former members of the U.S. Marine Corps, uses “T3 Operations” (Triage, Treatment, Transport) as the core strategy in its medical response in disaster areas.
Research suggests (pdf), that aside from enormous cash donations, successful disaster relief requires the deployment and mass distribution of emergency supplies, nearly all of which are private goods necessitating private sector provision. With the private sector having “distributional networks already in place, … organizational structures, equipment and practical knowledge”, public sector engagement is inevitably handicapped by comparison. While government aid may be the first go-to when thinking about disaster relief, many of its short-comings have come to light in previous disasters. A study of the aid response to Hurricane Katrina found only 25% of respondents in Mississippi identified government “as their most important source of aid”. The Global Development Research Center points out that the private sector is able to provide skilled services in the form of technical man-power, debris removal and emergency medical care, a view advocated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It is clear that the coordination of private aid can be improved. However, its merits must not be overlooked, given its pivotal role in disasters. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan addressed this point accurately stating “contributions of businesses in mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities have been woefully underestimated”. Instead, partnerships should be formed. When discussing floods in the Philippines, Chairman of Metropolitan Manila Development society Francis Tolentino stated “public-private partnership have been done in other third world countries and proven to be effective in addressing problems from the community level”. In the case of the Pakistan relief effort, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce set up an Office Depot Foundation-sponsored Disaster Help Desk for Business in order to field inquiries from donor companies about coordinating philanthropic efforts. Such efforts provide the means through which to channel private funds, and offer visible results from philanthropic disaster relief.