Wed | Oct 28, 2020

Gillian Haughton | Businesses need to be prepared for multiple crises for sustainability

Published:Sunday | October 18, 2020 | 12:10 AM
Gillian Haughton
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Businesses are operating and keeping afloat in very challenging times. From the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the active Atlantic Hurricane Season and other ongoing factors, the going has been tough.

This was the unanimous voice of the experts and stakeholders in the recently organised AMCHAM (The American Chamber of Commerce) Jamaica webinar – Pandemics & Natural Disasters-How Businesses Can Prepare, Manage & Recover From Multiple Crises – where they said that it is imperative that businesses in Jamaica and across the Caribbean make crisis management a part of their overall strategy and planning. It is critical to be resilient, relevant, and prepared for any emergencies.

Dr Laura-Lee Boodram, head, vector-borne disease, Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA); Richard Thompson, director general, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Jamaica; Ronald Jackson, head, disaster risk reduction , recovery and resilience, UNDP; Tim Callaghan, senior regional adviser, USAID/BHA/LAC, led the discussions.

There is a broad consensus to expand the scope of disaster management, building resilience and risk reduction, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The preparation has to include the well-being of the human resources of the organisations.

President of AMCHAM Jamaica Ann Dawn Young Sang says that these are unprecedented times, which requires innovate solutions. “We at AMCHAM Jamaica are working assiduously to implement creative solutions for businesses.”

Bearing in mind the gravity of the situation at hand, the experts have offered tangible recommendations and solutions to businesses at large.

“The Caribbean region is regarded as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world as a result of exposure to several natural hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes,” Ronald Jackson said. “However, exposure to hazardous materials (HazMat) chemical emergencies is also of similar significance.

These problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a significant dent in economies across the world - with travel and tourism and hospitality sectors being of the hardest hit – resulting in job losses and the closing of businesses. It is estimated that one million people have died from COVID-19 and related causes.

“We are facing a wicked problem,” Jackson, who is one the world’s leading experts in disaster risk reduction, disaster management and recovery, said. “The dynamic associated with this rapidly changing world underpins the call for accelerating the agenda for a resilient Caribbean.”

And these disaster management and recovery initiatives have to be broad spectrum to include the safety and well-being of the employees, the physical infrastructure, and data.

“It is important to implement a multi-hazard approach in which the engagement of employees is critical,” Dr Laura-Lee Boodram said.

BUSINESS UNUSUAL

“It is business unusual,” Boodram said, adding that it is very important for businesses to keep empathy as a key focus and to address the mental health of the employees during disasters and emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on livelihoods, affecting the livelihoods of millions. It is estimated that 71 to 100 million people globally have been pushed into extreme poverty. In the first quarter of 2020, it is estimated that 155 million full-time jobs were lost, which increased to 400 million in the second quarter.

Richard Thompson strongly recommended making business continuity planning a critical part of business processes, and in this, communication and planning are the keys. He emphasised the importance of developing an implementation plan for recovery, even more important, critically testing the plan and that businesses should plan and implement methodologies to secure their data.

Thompson strongly recommended that businesses back up their data and ensure that they test the plans that they wish to implement. He further reiterated the need to ensure rapid and effective recovery, and importantly, to implement effective communication strategy for the successful implementation of all processes.

Focusing on Caribbean natural disasters and the private sector, Tim Callaghan said that COVID-19 has changed the way we do business and that more than ever, it is very important that we collaborate to address the issues at hand.

“Currently, one of the challenges is the limited understanding of areas of shared value between public and private sector in disaster risk reduction,” Callaghan said.

He recommended initiating increased private-sector involvement and that donor agencies be called upon to co-fund national emergency planning and preparedness sessions. He said that USAID has been proactively working with the private sector across the region on disaster response programmes. His agency is working on the ground in disaster mitigation and recovery in the Caribbean, and they are calling upon the increased engagement of the private sector.

According to Callaghan, given the instances of extreme weather conditions in the Caribbean, it is imperative that private sector collaborations are looked into urgently for speedy recovery and that private sector expertise be leveraged to strengthen national response capabilities.

PLANNING IS VITAL

The panel of experts emphasised that planning is vital for effective implementation of programme and policies and to build business resilience to disasters. These need to be complemented by recognising that the efficacy of disaster risk reduction, management, and preparedness are dependent upon recognising the importance of and embracing sustainable development.

“We need to gain better understanding of multidimensional risks and solving the development conundrum,” said Jackson. “We need to address underlying factors, those of inequality, vulnerability, and unsustained development.”

One of the key takeaways, which was agreed upon by the experts is that it is necessary to balance the equation between a harmonious coexistence between environment and habitat, and right now, it needs a change in behaviour. There are broader issues of development and urban planning that need to be factored. Overpopulation in urban areas also hampers effective implementation of any strategies.

“It is very important to address the underlying risk drivers,” Jackson said. “We need to look into building resilient cities and decentralisation of development.”

It is, therefore, imperative for businesses to be crisis resilient; to have effective, customised, and working plans in place; to ensure that human capital is an integral part of the processes; to be open and willing to collaborate on disaster risk reduction, management, and recovery; and to build and be part of sustainable and environment friendly eco systems.

- Gillian Haughton is chief executive officer of The American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica. Send feedback to gillian.haughton@amchamjamaica.org