When Tropical Cyclone Harold – a category 5 cyclone – made landfall in Vanuatu in April 2020, it was the first major climate-related disaster to hit a country during the COVID-19 pandemic. While international humanitarian support was slowed down because of travel restrictions, local businesses stepped up and led relief efforts.
The Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC), a local network of 2,800 members, coordinated damage assessments and provided over 35 tons of food and non-food items to the worst-hit areas.
This success story is just one of the hundreds of initiatives by Connecting Business Initiative (CBi) networks. Since its launch on 24 May 2016, the CBi networks have responded to over 100 crises, mobilized over US$52 million, and assisted 17 million people.
A joint initiative by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), CBi has strengthened the role played by the private sector in providing locally-led solutions during major disasters.
“Over the last 5 years, our partnership with CBi has been beneficial in pushing forward the agenda of how private sector networks coordinate and collaborate with governments and the UN. Knowledge-sharing among CBi networks, capacity-building, and overall support from CBi contributes to how we respond to disasters– ultimately, making a significant difference to people's lives affected by crises,” stated Veronica Gabaldon, Executive Director of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.
The private sector has a strategic interest in building their own resilience to crises and also to support the communities where they operate: between 2000 and 2019, there were over 7,300 major recorded natural-hazard related disasters claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people and resulting in approximately US$2.97 trillion in global economic losses.
In the case of Vanuatu, the local network later partnered with Oxfam, and used blockchain technology to provide direct assistance to thousands of families through tap-and-pay cards. The network serves as a coordination mechanism for the private sector to engage with the Government as well as humanitarian and development partners on disaster resilience, emergency response, recovery, and climate change adaptation and mitigation work in Vanuatu.
“With COVID-19, the importance of leveraging networks in localized, collective action, including the private sector, has only grown,” said Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “That’s why initiatives such as the Connecting Business initiative (CBi) help contribute to disaster prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.”
Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), commented, “For the last five years CBi business networks have provided a clear entry point for the private sector to engage in disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Together, they have helped people in need in over 100 crises. We look forward to expanding our work with our business partners in these critical contexts to leave no one behind and build back better while accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”
 Source: UNDRR, Human Cost of Disasters – An overview of the last 20 years 2000-2019