Tag Archives: humanitarian aid

Companies’ Growing Role In Natural Disaster Relief

Multinationals are taking an increasingly prominent relief role in humanitarian disasters, including those in China. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, has put the subject under its microscope, finding that corporations have become a central component of the international response to natural disasters. The likes of Coca-Cola and Cisco were bigger contributors to Sichuan earthquake relief than the U.S. government (if not bigger donors than the general public). The Center sees the trend as part of an expanding notion of ‘corporate global citizenship’, though in the case of Chinese disasters, it notes, it may be as much smart local brand building.

The Center dates the trend to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It excites policymakers, for all the differences in values and organizational cultures that exist between the private and public sectors. Companies bring cash but also a new disaster assistance network through their globalized and local personnel, supply chains and customers–and a desire to protect all three. Policy makers should remain realistic in their expectations, however. Relief for both domestic and international disasters accounts for less than 3% of all corporate donations, the Center notes.

Each natural disaster is unique in its own way. Beijing had the resources to deal with the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, unlike, say the Haiti government in the wake of the 2010 earthquake there. Yet U.S. corporations still donated an estimated $110 million toward relief of the Sichuan disaster, even if they were seen as “driven by commercial calculation rather than by acute humanitarian concerns”, the Center says. Up to a further $30 million was given via the Red Cross. The U.S. government itself gave just $5 million. The Business Round Table and the U.S.-China Business Council were instrumental in corralling U.S. multinationals to give in Washington’s stead.

Here is a list of the four most generous U.S. corporate donors for the relief of the Sichuan earthquake, one of the five big disasters examined for the Center’s study. The numbers include cash, in-kind donations and employee contributions.

  • Cisco: >$45 million
  • Coca-Cola: $15.6 million
  • Procter & Gamble: $7.6 million
  • Johnson & Johnson: $5 million

Seriously generous numbers.

This is all evolving ad hoc. In the U.S., the Business Civic Leadership Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is emerging as the coordination point between the corporate, governmental and non-governmental organization worlds. UN agencies and the Global Economic Forum (Davos) is tickling forward the global agenda. There is interesting cooperation going on between companies and disaster relief agencies to enable corporate management and organizational skills and technologies to be deployed in the field at the time of disaster and to raise the core capacities of relief agencies over the longer term. As was demonstrated in the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina, a retailer like Wal-Mart is much more practiced than government disaster management agencies in distributing large volumes of basic supplies to a lot of people quickly. This is all beyond our immediate remit but gone into in some detail in the Center’s report, though the examples are mostly U.S.-centric.

From the ash-gushing Icelandic volcano to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, natural disasters can readily disrupt global supply chains. Disaster risk reduction may not have the feel-good factor of disaster relief for corporate donors, but private-sector engagement in these areas, though still rudimentary, is just as vital. That is not just about social responsibility. It is also, as the report notes, “about economic risk management and the longer-term vitality of consumer societies”.

While business may not be in the business of disasters, it decreasingly stands by, if it ever did, when disaster strikes. For multinationals in China, preparation is understanding where a company can be helpful and at what points in the system it can make their offers of assistance. For Chinese companies abroad, it is something to understand that this is becoming yet another dimension of being a multinational.

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Filed under Environment, Politics & Society, Sichuan earthquake

Humanitarian Disaster Looms Ever Nearer On Sino-Myanmar Border

Sang Gang internally displaced persons camp, Kachin State, Myanmar

We are getting new reports of intensified fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) just over the border from Yunnan. With it, a growing number of displaced locals are threatening a humanitarian disaster on China’s southwestern doorstep.

The number of refugees housed in makeshift camps along the border, such as the one at Sang Gang shown in the picture above from Human Rights Watch, is said now to approach 35,000, with international aid agencies having little or no access to the area. It is two months since Naypyidaw last let the World Food Program and Oxfam deliver supplies to the refugee camps. The same month Beijing beefed up its own forces on the Yunnan side of the border to prevent the trickle fleeing into China turning into a flood.

Last month, the Myanmar government held a round of Chinese-brokered talks with the political wing of the KIA in Ruili, the railhead on the Yunnan side of the border. These appear to have achieved little more than promises of a political dialogue on behalf of a civilian government in Naypyidaw. For all its putative signs of engagement with the outside world and steps towards democratic reform at home, the government appears to have little control over the army commanders conducting the fighting on the ground in Kachin province. Meanwhile, the humanitarian disaster that Beijing fears on its doorstep gets ever closer, while the peace necessary to restore China’s commercial activities in northern Myanmar recedes.

Update: Mizzima News, a Burmese exiles’ newspaper based in Delhi, reports that Chinese officials today told 2,000 refugees who crossed the border from Kachin province to stay with relatives in Yunnan to return home. The newspaper also puts the number of refugees in the camps on the Myanmar side of the border at 45,000. Meanwhile, Burma News International says that there are 16 temporary camps on the Yunnan side of the border, housing 7,000 refugees.

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2010: China’s Year In Catastrophes, Part II

In a review of natural disasters in 2010, the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, lists last year’s severe flooding across much of China and the drought earlier in the year as the two worst natural disasters of 2010 as measured by the number of people affected, 134 million and 60 million respectively. The flooding in Jilin takes seventh spot on its list with a further 6 million affected.

Measured by deaths the Qinghai earthquake was the third most deadly natural disaster of the year, killing 2,968, with landslides (1,765 deaths) and the floods (1,691 deaths) the fifth and sixth most fatal. Overall, no country was more affected by natural disasters in 2010 than China, with 22 recorded. India was next with 16.

We have chronicled may of these, most recently from a list of natural and man-made disasters furnished by the international insurance company, Swiss Re. The Brookings’ report draws its numbers and definitions from the World Health Organization-sponsored Emergency Events Database.

The Brookings report blames the severe nature of the weather in China in 2010 on the shift in June and July from El Nino to La Nina in the Pacific, which disrupts the large-scale ocean-atmospheric circulation patterns in the tropics, affecting weather around the globe, and in China’s case causing drought in the first half of the year followed by flooding in mid-year.

The economic cost of the floods and landslides is put at $18 billion, second only to the earthquake in Chile ($30 billion) and almost twice the cost of the flooding in Pakistan, which gained much greater international attention–and relief support–though it affected only 20 million people.

While China traditionally does not ask for international aid for its natural disasters, believing it has sufficient means and capacities to deal with such events, the contrast in the numbers to others of the year’s big disasters is staggering. The Haiti earthquake triggered $3.5 billion in international humanitarian funding; the Qinghai earthquake $7.3 million. Pakistan’s floods raised $2.2 billion in such aid; China’s floods, $150,000. Looked at another way, that worked out to $121.67 for each person affected by Pakistan’s flooding versus one tenth of one cent for each person in China so affected.

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