Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Natural Disasters: resilient response required

In the face of natural disasters and human suffering, it feels a little churlish to talk of things like ‘competition’ and ‘business cases’. At least, that’s what Peter Bakker thinks. The chief executive of Dutch logistic company TNT ordered the crew of one of the company’s 747s to offload a cargo of high-energy biscuits in Miami and load them onto a plane belonging to arch competitor UPS. The biscuits were bound for the crisis-struck Caribbean state of Haiti. TNT’s plane was too large to land in the earthquake-hit country. So UPS’s smaller aircraft had to ferry them in. Culturally, it was an almost impossible ask, Bakker concedes in a recent interview with Ethical Corporation. But if competitors can’t cooperate when it comes to saving lives, what hope is there?

It’s a legitimate question and one that many global companies are grappling with. In a lengthy feature article in Ethical Corporation’s May issue, Stephen Gardner describes the key role that the private sector can and is playing in the face of natural calamities. From rescue, relief to recovery, large corporations are doing their bit. Gardner turns up some compelling examples, from Walmart’s food deliveries post-Katrina to Coca Cola’s work with Haiti’s embattled mango growers.

There’s some hard-nosed thinking to be done here though. Yes, disaster recovery is about saving lives. But it’s about saving bucks too. The rate of natural disasters is on the up. Figures from the Centre for Research on theEpidemiology of Disasters prove it. Climatic phenomena are generally cited as the cause. So too are disaster-related costs. Operational interruptions, increased insurance premiums and workforce displacement are just some of the bottom line implications of natural disasters for business. So while it’s good that companies are become more responsive to disasters, they need to become more resilient too. Building design, facility location, flood defenses, early warning systems – all need to be on the list of forward-thinking businesses.


  1. for an interesting take on the worlds natural disasters check out this blog - http://rwitterings.blogspot.com/2011/06/natural-disasters-and-plummeting.html

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