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business aid sought for disaster response idea

January 2006

Corporate backing of £30million ($52m) is being sought for a United Nations-supported initiative to build economic capacity in Africa by helping African firms manufacture tents, blankets and other disaster relief materials for use in humanitarian efforts across the continent.

Advance Aid has two main aims – improving emergency relief response times in Africa by stockpiling supplies locally, and stimulating home-grown entrepreneurship and business activity as a way of tackling poverty. Western companies are being asked to provide the money over three years to pay companies to produce the first stocks of goods, and to give business advice and mentoring to African companies fulfilling orders.

David Dickie, director of Advance Aid, stressed that this was not charity, but a business initiative. He told EP: ‘In a disaster situation in Africa, thousands of people die waiting for aid to arrive while it is flown in from all over the world on expensive charters of aircraft. Our solution is to pre-position enough emergency relief materials in East and West Africa to save up to one million potential victims in case of disaster, and not only that – to have all these materials manufactured in Africa to stimulate local economies.’

A group of more than 30 non-governmental organizations, including World Vision, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and Save the Children, have agreed in principle to award contracts to African companies to manufacture emergency relief goods. The NGOs will stockpile them for use when necessary, paying to replenish stocks with new orders as items are used.

Western companies will be needed to pay for the goods initially, give management advice to African companies fulfilling the orders and provide employee volunteers to fill skills gaps and offer training.

Advance Aid says the idea has been ‘well received’ in the first approaches to a small number of large companies. It has been emphasizing that, apart from enabling companies to become involved in disaster relief, the initiative will bring direct business benefits by providing access to Africa’s emerging markets and local partnerships, and offering opportunities for employee volunteering.

With UN assistance, Advance Aid has already identified 9000 factories in Africa capable of making aid goods. Participants will be audited to make sure their workplace standards are in line with international norms. Paul Kapelus, chief executive of the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship, told EP: ‘The initiative looks very appealing, but it is critical that the companies established are sustainable and this might mean ensuring competitive access to other markets for the goods produced.’

Simon Griffith, projects director of the African Investment Advisory consultancy, said: ‘My initial response is that this is a great initiative but I would like to see these [African] companies assured of regular work and help in finding new markets for their products as they are encouraged to scale up, so they can survive between emergencies.’



Further Information
david.dickie@advanceaid.org
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