In part one of my reflection on CSR and natural disasters, I reflected on how business has a role to play in minimising the vulnerability of the communities in which they operate. In part two, I reflect on how disaster risk reduction can actually be a vehicle for business to contribute to sustainable development by addressing the systemic causes that expose communities to natural hazard risk.
The outfall from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 was a good example. In the three days after the eruption and the subsequent grounding of aircraft, 5000 farm workers in Kenya had been temporarily laid-off due to the lack of market access. Whilst Tesco was able to organise an alternative delivery route through Spain, it raises the question of the viability of trade arrangements that create such dependencies.
In the case of a supermarket chain, greater corporate responsibility could involve a strategy that strengthens local markets to provide food for the local population. This would represent an investment in the supply chain rather than an opportunity to cut costs. By taking such an approach, the unpredictability of natural disasters can be tempered as there is greater supply chain capacity to respond when calamity strikes.
Furthermore, such an approach could actually avoid some disasters altogether. While a business continuity plan for fast-onset disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can minimise the impact of a catastrophe, slow-onset disasters such as drought need not necessarily create humanitarian crises.
An Interpares study on community-based food security systems showed how poor communities in the Medak district, a semi-arid region in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and also part of India’s “hunger belt”, were unaffected by the 2001-2002 drought. By growing grain that is adapted to a low-rainfall climate and through the establishment of a community grain fund that enables food sovereignty in lean times, the communities had no need of external assistance during the emergency. What this demonstrates is that while the drought was unavoidable, the appropriate management of resources can strengthen communities as well as reducing their vulnerability in the event of a potential disaster.
While there was no corporate involvement in the above example, companies that align their core business practices for the purposes of social development may be able to develop disaster risk reduction solutions that go beyond risk minimisation. For instance, a food services company could partner with a community to support traditional farmer methods that maintain land sovereignty and are adapted to arid climates. Rather than an emergency relief approach that is reactionary, by addressing the systemic issues that expose vulnerable communities to risk in the event of disaster, communities can be strengthened to avoid tragedy all together.
Lifeworth Consulting associate
Note: This blog is based on Lifeworth’s pro-bono work with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and the forthcoming edition (issue 41) of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.