ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s private sector is becoming more aware of the importance of disaster risk reduction given the damage to business and costs of mitigation and recovery but their response and involvement remains inadequate, an expert said.
Till a few years ago Sri Lanka was a relatively disaster-free country, Visaka Hidellage, Assistant Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told an international disaster convention in Colombo.
Landslides were a problem along with annual flooding but very few people died, she told the forum organised by MDF Asia with UNDP and the Disaster Management Centre.
But since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 the island has faced disasters much more frequently, also because of climate change.
The private sector is now getting involved in disaster risk reduction and management globally, especially after a UN conference held in Sendai, Japan where a more integrated approach known as the ‘Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’ was adopted.
The previous Hyogo Framework of Action aimed at improving disaster risk management signed in 2005 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan did not involve the private sector but mainly governments and civil society organisations, Hidellage said.
“Now the private sector is a key player and has become active in disaster risk reduction,” she said.
“This is not only because the private sector feels it is their responsibility, but also because the private sector kept getting seriously affected by disasters.”
Those impacted range from beachside hotels and highland tea estates to insurance companies, factory workers, banks, armed forces, utilities companies and health service providers.
Hidellage recalled how the Japanese and Thai economies suffered from the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by a tsunami and the Bangkok floods.
“The floods affected not only businesses in Bangkok but, because Bangkok is a business hub, businesses all over the world,” Hidellage said.
“The private sector began feeling they should get involved only around then.”
Businesses around the world are now planning for how to continue business when there is a disaster.
The private sector needs to minimise the risks for themselves and the environment, and not create additional risks by introducing new developments.
“How far is the private sector in Sri Lanka engaged like that?” Hidellage asked.
The private sector is indicated as a partner in the government’s comprehensive disaster management plan.
“While the private sector has an active role, unfortunately so far we have not been able to identify their specific contribution,” Hidellage said.
The Koslanda landslide triggered by rain in the central hills in October 2014 provided an example of disorganised response to disaster.
“Relief stockpiles grew in camps,” Hidellage said. “Logistics co-ordination was not good enough.
“A lot of relief was mobilised but whether it was finally used by the people who needed it is a question.” (Colombo/November 26 2015)