The Role of the Private Sector in Humanitarian Crises

Ebola is a humanitarian crisis first and foremost, but it is also a mounting economic disaster for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The secondary impacts of the crisis: Farmers are unable to harvest their fields or get their crops to market. Banks and government offices are partially or completely closed. Some companies have suspended operations. Quarantines, curfews and border closures are preventing people from moving freely to work, to their fields or to market. Scores of people have lost their jobs. In Liberia, nearly half of those working when the outbreak was first detected in March 2014 are no longer employed.

Decreasing production, diminished trade, disrupted agriculture and rising prices are likely to cost upwards of $4 billion, according to the World Bank. The scale and complexity of the crisis is unlike anything the humanitarian community has faced.

A coalition of more than 48 companies with major assets and operations in West Africa has come together as the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group. Their members have provided direct support through donating funding, personnel, equipment, and through building infrastructure, as well as lending expertise in construction, logistics, and distribution services.

This is very much a win-win: The humanitarian sector gets access to highly skilled personnel; funding, new ways of working and specialized operations, such as logistics and communications; meanwhile, businesses reap benefits of business continuity, building or strengthening customer loyalty, as well as charitable credibility.

Coordination is key and it is the role of the United Nations to lead a comprehensive response to the crisis. UN agencies, donors such as the United States and England, as well at the private sector must provide quick, flexible funding to partners, increasing funding for community mobilization for prevention and preparedness not only in affected countries but in at-risk countries such as Guinea Bissau, Gambia and Senegal.

And finally, NGOs like Oxfam need to do more to partner with local organizations and consult community members to identify the most vulnerable.

[Huffington Post]

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