Local businesses in Africa: a key player in disaster risk reduction and disaster management
Rapid urbanization and increasing climate-related risks are two reasons why disasters are likely to become more deadly and costly on the African continent. In this context, local businesses have a key role to play in disaster risk reduction, crisis response and recovery. Their engagement is even more impactful when done in coordination with other actors, as examples from Côte d’Ivoire or Madagascar suggest.
More disasters, greater impact = higher costs for Africa
Disaster risk reduction may not be one of Africa’s top priorities, as the continent is embracing a rapid economic transformation while facing infrastructure gaps, human capital needs and the impact of the climate crisis. However, studies show that disaster impact is likely to increase in most African countries. Floods, droughts, and epidemics, the main drivers of disasters on the African continent, have already led to over 45,000 deaths in the last two decades. Risks are also changing: rapid urbanization means that the risk profile is evolving from rural, with drought as the main challenge, to urban, with challenges related to floods, cyclones or earthquakes.
In this context, governments and traditional humanitarian partners alone can’t address the increasing resource and funding needs. On average, only 4% of the national budgets in Africa are dedicated to disaster risk reduction. A recent study showed that the lower the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the higher the disaster response costs: low-income countries don’t have the capacity to invest in risk reduction, and as a result bear the brunt of heavy disaster costs. As such, it’s crucial to bring in new approaches and actors to disaster management.
Doing better: Anticipatory action & engaging with the private sector to reduce disaster risk
The humanitarian community is already working on innovative new approaches to tackling disaster impact, such as anticipatory action, which was recently piloted in Somalia and Ethiopia.
In this context, local businesses are a key actor to engage with. They have the capacity to quickly mobilize resources on the ground and strengthen emergency preparedness and recovery, both through financial and in-kind contributions as well as by providing expertise and operational support. Engaging the private sector in local disaster management builds resilience by empowering communities and enabling a more efficient response, relying on local supply chains and economies.
The contribution of the private sector has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. All over the African continent, local businesses stepped up for their communities. In Côte d’Ivoire, the Private Sector Humanitarian Platform in Côte d’Ivoire, or Plateforme Humanitaire du Secteur Privé (PSHP) received contributions from local businesses, mostly health kits, protective personal equipment and other materials that were then distributed to underequipped hospitals and the Red Cross. Small businesses across the continent started producing masks to help protect their communities.
Coordination is key
When Cyclone Idai hit Northern Mozambique in 2019, the private sector provided critical support. Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, Chief of the OCHA’s Emergency Response Section, recalls that “Local businesses were on the ground, they knew the area, they helped us deliver aid quickly and efficiently. But coordinating their individual contributions was at times complicated. Had they been organized in a private sector network, their engagement would have been even more impactful.” This testimony relates to the conclusions of the Inter-Agency Evaluation of the disaster.
In that spirit, several countries on the African continent have set up local private sector networks to coordinate businesses’ contributions during emergencies. Those networks are the core members of the UN Connecting Business initiative (CBi), a joint UNDP-OCHA initiative supporting the private sector engagement before, during and after disasters. In Côte d’Ivoire the PSHP, a CBi Member Network, set up a call center to support the private sector during the pandemic. It also offers practical content to make it easier for local businesses to develop business continuity plans and coordinated the numerous in-kind contributions of the private sector.
In Madagascar, the Private Sector Humanitarian Platform, another CBi Member Network, actively supported the COVID-19 response. With partners, it developed and distributed Corona Boky, an illustrated children’s book to raise awareness of COVID-19. It also distributed solar radios and educational kits in rural areas, and co-piloted a contact tracing initiative in public transport with the Ministère des Transports, du Tourisme et de la Météorologie de Madagascar, among other interventions. The platform is currently involved in the response to the ongoing drought and food-security situation in the Grand Sud Region, working alongside NGO partners.
Working together towards a more resilient Africa
As disaster risks increase on the continent, coordinated efforts are needed more than ever. Private sector networks can play a crucial role in making disaster management more efficient. Initiatives such as the UN Disaster Risk Reduction’s ARISE networks, focused on disaster preparedness, and the examples of Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire - where local businesses collaborate with the UN system through the Connecting Business initiative, are examples of best practices that could be replicated elsewhere on the continent.
With a majority of local businesses that are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), investing in disaster risk reduction, business continuity planning and community resilience isn’t just good business sense; it’s a key priority for local and national economies to become better at navigating the ever-stormier waters that are “the new normal”.
Are you a local business operating in Africa and interested in partnering with us? Reach out to email@example.com.