Business urged to prepare for disasters

Posted on November 25, 2013

CEBU CITY -- Top United Nations disaster risk reduction officials have called on the private sector to draw up plans ensuring sustainability of operations despite property losses, supply chain disruptions, and other external shocks after a disaster.

They also urged business and nongovernmental groups here to work with the local government in coming up with a long-term plan for a resilient Cebu and setting an example of public-private collaboration in disaster risk reduction.

Margareta Wahlstrom, head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), noted that private companies hedge against financial and economic risks, but not against disaster risk.

She said the private sector, which plays a vital role in economic recovery after a disaster, has to ensure its resilience in case of destruction of facilities, disruption in supply chain, loss of markets and lack of credit.

"As to when the next disaster will strike, we don’t know. But we have to act as if it’s happening very soon," she said during a meeting on Saturday with representatives of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, nongovernmental groups and academe.

Ms. Wahlstrom said private companies and organizations should evaluate their own capabilities.

"How prepared are you? How well informed is your staff? Do you have a business continuity plan?" she asked.

Jerry Velasquez, head of UNISDR in the Asia-Pacific region, said most private companies and foundations have no continuity plans that will enable them to jump-start the economy and provide jobs after a disaster.

"Most think it (disaster) will not happen to them. They are willing to help. They participate in helping others, but they don’t have continuity plans," he said in the same meeting organized by property developer Genvi Development Corp.

Had typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) hit Metro Cebu directly, Mr. Velasquez said the effects would have been as catastrophic as in Leyte because some mayors were not able to enforce evacuation.

More than 5,000 people, mostly in Leyte, were killed while nearly 2,000 remain missing after the typhoon whipped through the central Philippines on Nov. 8.

Mr. Velasquez said many of the chief executive officers in Manila "felt the government was very slow" in responding to the devastation caused by the typhoon.

UNISDR sat down with about 50 CEOs and top managers in Asia in a meeting organized by SM Prime Holdings, Inc. prior to visiting Cebu.

Mr. Velasquez said the private sector is "very impatient" and is already planning recovery and reconstruction while emergency relief efforts are still ongoing.

Aside from corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, opportunities for private sector participation in reconstruction abound, he said.

It’s also an opportune time to partner with the government and plan for the next disaster, to identify the role that each sector will play in case of disaster, he added.

"Who will provide transport? Who will clear the roads? Who will provide food storage? The opportunity is now," Mr. Velasquez said.

For Cebu, an alliance between the government and the private sector is being planned to map stakeholders and their services in case of disasters, said provincial disaster risk consultant Baltazar Tribunalo, Jr.

He said Cebu Governor Hilario P. Davide III is expected to announce today the creation of a task force that will rehabilitate areas in northern Cebu which were devastated by the typhoon.

Lito Maderazo, president of the Cebu Chamber, said the organization is willing to work with the government and has, in fact, started mapping members’ capabilities.

"We’re identifying which members can provide trucks, warehouses, heavy equipment and services after a disaster," he told BusinessWorld. The chamber provides logistics support to ongoing relief operations.

During the meeting with the UNISDR officials, he pointed out the need to capacitate local disaster risk reduction and management councils.

"If we want to reduce disaster risk, let us capacitate the groups assigned to the task. Very little attention has been given to these groups in terms of resources," he said.

Antonio Chiu, Cebu Chamber vice-president, also stressed the need to immediately provide security after a disaster as he recalled the looting that happened in Tacloban.

"The first three days (after a disaster) are very critical. Before anything, there’s a need to secure the affected areas," he said. Hungry residents, whose emergency food supplies were washed away by a massive storm surge caused by the typhoon, looted supermarkets and warehouses in Tacloban, prompting local businessmen and traders to flee the city. -- Marites S. Villamor