Business expertise tapped for smarter disaster aid

Thu Jan 26, 2012 8:10am EST
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By Megan Rowling

LONDON (AlertNet) - From shipping supplies into disaster zones to setting up emergency telecoms networks and sending aid payments via phones, businesses are increasingly donating cash and expertise to help people hit by humanitarian crises.

The for-profit and non-profit sectors have traditionally been at odds when it came to humanitarian aid, with aid workers suspicious of corporate motives and businesses doubtful of charities' efficiency.

But a growing number of aid agencies have teamed up with companies offering logistics services and new technologies in recent years to find ways of responding more effectively to disasters like famine, floods and earthquakes.

Since its first experience helping the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the 2006 Lebanon conflict, logistics firm Agility has contributed transport, forklifts and warehousing and shared supply chain know-how in around 20 emergencies, for example.

"There is certainly a lot of value for industries to engage with humanitarians," said Frank Clary, who manages disaster relief contributions at the company, which is based in Kuwait and the Middle East's largest logistics provider.

"It is something employees want to do ... and it doesn't cost too much."

The private sector has also given more cash, with corporate donations tending to rise sharply when big natural disasters hit the headlines.

In recent years, funding from private sources -- businesses, individuals, foundations and trusts -- has accounted for about a quarter of all humanitarian aid, rising to $4.3 billion in 2010 from $2.7 billion in 2006, according to Global Humanitarian Assistance, a British-based group that monitors aid flows.   Continued...

<p>A shopper pushes goods at the Wembley branch of the Swedish international furniture and home accessories company Ikea in west London October 15, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>