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Wednesday 29 January 2020
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Disaster risk management

By Lesley John, ACCA Marketing and Media Relations Manager

Hurricane Irma has caused catastrophic damage across the Caribbean and US. It’s the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, causing one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in history.

Hurricane Irma has been a stark reminder of the dangers posed by extreme weather. Tropical storms are not uncommon to the Caribbean and unfortunately disaster occurrences cannot be eliminated. But the effects highlight the importance of disaster risk management.

In the public sector, many government departments work together in a disaster response to save and sustain lives and protect livelihoods. The consequences of not being able to recover from a natural disaster in a timely manner can include loss of reputation in the eyes of public and other government departments, inability to provide timely reporting and the loss of public confidence.

Organisations need to have a robust disaster risk management plan in place. This includes asset and threat identification, quantifying the potential losses, assessment of vulnerabilities, and evaluation of counter measures. It should also include definition of incidents and crisis assessment criteria, escalation procedure; and crisis management team roles and responsibilities. Without effective plans in place, businesses can find it difficult to respond immediately. But it’s important to remember that a plan only works as a safety net to mitigate the impact of a disaster; you can never disaster-proof a company.

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) was one of several places directly hit by Hurricane Irma. The offshore business and legal centre has declared a state of emergency as a result of the catastrophic damage. The big four global accounting firms all have a presence in the BVI, as well as many other professional services businesses. All will now need a considerable amount of time to recover before they are able to restart operations.

The UK has pledged a £32m cash injection to its territories in the region. There have also been other pledges of assistance. The CCRIF, formerly the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility; Scotiabank; the United Nations Development Programme; and the University of the West Indies have, in total, committed over US$16.4 million in relief efforts. The CCRIF announced that it would pay out $US15.6 million (EC$42 million) to the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, Anguilla, and St Kitts & Nevis to aid their recovery. The CCRIF said the passage of the category five hurricane triggered the payments on the countries' Tropical Cyclone polices

Many businesses have become adept at responding during disasters to help those worst affected. Last year when Hurricane Matthew struck parts of the Caribbean, GraceKennedy Ltd, one of the Caribbean's largest conglomerates, donated J$2.5 million in non-perishable food items to Haiti. Items include crates of porridge mixes, corned beef, sausages, mackerel, cheese, beans, juices and water products. In Jamaica, GraceKennedy staff collected items of clothing and other essentials to send to Haiti through Food For the Poor (FFP) Jamaica, the largest charity organisation in Jamaica.

Other forms of contribution from GraceKennedy’s subsidiaries and partners are also under way. Then Hi-Lo Food Stores (Massy Stores) set up collection points at its 13 locations and supported FFP’s appeal for non-perishable items. All donations were collected by FFP, which organised the shipment of items to Haiti. FFP’s Haiti office handled distribution there.

Walmart, one of the world’s largest retailers, has become practiced at responding to natural disasters, sometimes more quickly than governments.

Within the first three days following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011, the retailer had associates, working across Japan, taking action to help by setting up distribution points for relief items in its store parking lots when the stores themselves were too damaged to open. Its stores and distribution centres provided donations to the victims including water, food and sanitary items. The statement added that Walmart associates worked around the clock to keep supplies going to the Seiyu stores – as the chain is called in Japan – which had become a lifeline for local communities.

Natural disasters can come from anywhere at any time. Nobody has the power to know when a disaster will hit, but everyone has the power to prepare. Businesses that prepare for the worst will always be grateful that they did.

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