--> Gill Blog: Public-Private Partnerships in Disaster Management

Gill Blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Public-Private Partnerships in Disaster Management

I sat in on a session this past week that featured an hour-long conference call from an on the scene emergency worker from a global 100 firm who was calling from the scene of the recent Pakistan earthquake. Beyond the descriptions of what we have routinely become accustomed to in the two weeks since the earthquake - frantic efforts to rescue stranded survivors in the mountains, and emergency services being stretched to the limit (he mentioned just returning from a hospital in Islamabad with 300 beds, now struggling to handle 1,200). We were also fortunate enough to hear his perspective on things we don't normally hear about in such urgent circumstances.

For one thing, he spoke about how such events provide the perfect opportunity to create public/private partnerships to enhance response. By combining forces both entities can effectively eliminate redundancy, reduce loss, save lives and improve productivity. These factors are particularly important when it comes to repairing infrastructure such as roads, or water pipes and reducing the liklihood that things like digging up a road only have to be done once. Working together can reduce costs and reduce the likelihood of having to do things twice. In addition, parterships on this scale can establish minimum standards and best practices that can be put to immediate use.

I saw first-hand the value of how the private sector can put its best foot forward when I dropped into my local Wal-Mart last week. When I was checking out, I was asked if I would like to donate a dollar to earthquake relief in Pakistan; when I said yes, the checkout clerk simply pointed her bar code reader to a code that was pasted on the register, and it was immediately added to my bill. I thought about how many people would check out in that store on that day, the number of days Wal-Mart would be collecting, and the number of Wal-Mart stores who would be participating in this initiative throughout the world. Just amazing.

Of course one of the keys to making sure public/private partnerships can move forward is to ensure they move beyond the realm of partisan politics. In this session we heard horror stories from Sri Lanka about villages being denied critical services and supplies because of the way that community may have voted in the past. If these types of hurdles can be overcome, the upside is tremendous.

So much so in fact that the UN is beginning to acknowledge the value of these partnerships and now trying to take a more active role in coordinating their formation. The following article identifies some of the reasons why such partnerships make sense:
Unfortunately, most mega-cities are located in developing countries, with few financial or human resources to allocate to natural-disaster-risk reduction. The lack of urban-planning capacity often explains additional urban risk factors, such as badly designed or poorly constructed buildings and infrastructure.

The quality of housing construction and infrastructure is therefore essential to reducing disaster vulnerability in urban environments.

This is the main reason why natural disasters disproportionably affect the poor. Poorer sections of urban populations often live in high-risk locations, such as steep or unstable hillsides and unclaimed terrain, which are especially prone to natural hazards. The poor build cheap, reside in the most unsafe settlements, and are the first at risk.

...Public-private partnerships could also contribute to hedging urban risks, by bringing together finance and governance experience.

We'll provide some thoughts on the effects of predatory pricing in disaster zones, and how this practice can be curbed effectively.