Our Perspectives


Involving the private sector in managing climate change and disasters

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Vanuatu coastlineLike most small island nations, Vanuatu's coastal zone is the country’s hub of economic activity. In order to protect the economies of small islands, it is imperative to enhance the adaptive capacity of coastal zones. Photo: UNDP

In January 2014, I was in Tonga working with the Government on recovery efforts following Tropical Cyclone Ian. While there, I heard about Digicel’s interest in supporting the recovery effort at the community level. This piqued my interest about the prospects for Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) and how they could work in the Pacific around the topic of Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management (CCDRM).

Why don’t governments and development partners work more closely with private sector? Why aren’t such working arrangements part of everyday business? The impacts of climate change and disasters are ultimately development issues – and managing them should involve the public and private sectors, as well as communities.

I started a dialogue with Digicel in their regional office in Fiji. At first it was challenging; it was as though we spoke different languages. However, after our second meeting with Digicel’s team in Suva and their colleagues in Vanuatu, it became very clear that we wanted the same things. We not only shared common goals, but those goals were surprisingly simple to achieve. I realized that the private sector could offer governments a far more cost-effective way of raising the awareness of remote island communities about the threat of cyclones.

Our programme has since developed partnerships with the private sector across the fields of agriculture, construction, tourism and other sectors.

  • In Vanuatu, we partnered on a SMS quiz that attracted more than 38,400 entries within a week, leading to negotiations between the Government and Digicel on further awareness-raising work for cyclone preparedness.

  • In Tonga, community members are now exporting vanilla – thanks to the teamwork and patience of the private sector working in the remote island of ‘Eua. We hope for similar success with our private sector infrastructure partners in Solomon Islands and tourist operator in Fiji.

There are still barriers—both real and perceived—to developing such partnerships. Sometimes there are protocols or rules that make financial arrangements difficult between public and private actors, and other times there is simply the incorrect assumption that such arrangements are too difficult to bother with. But these are barriers that can be overcome—communities, sub-national and national actors can indeed work together with commercial businesses to improve the financial and promotional effectiveness of CCDRM initiatives.

As someone with a background in economics, a CCDRM practitioner, a father looking to his children’s future, and a concerned resident of the Pacific, I find it very encouraging that the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction has a side-event that will focus on the Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific (SRDP), with a panel of speakers that will include our partner Digicel. Such discussions mark an important step in making PPPs just one more avenue of ensuring the sustainable development of communities in the Pacific, and across the globe.

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