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Businesses Have Role to Play in Disaster Efforts: Report

WASHINGTON, DC, United States

The private sector has a role to play in disaster preparedness and relief, but businesses have not been sufficiently integrated into the disaster system, according to a report released last week by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center.

“From small business preparedness and recovery to critical infrastructure protection, to the power of business expertise and donations, there are plenty of reasons -- and opportunities -- for business sector involvement,” said Geraldn McSwiggan, director of Issue Networks, at the Corporate Citizenship Center.

The report, “Changing the Game: How Business Innovations Reduce the Impact of Disasters," examined the approaches that some companies are taking to prepare for disasters and assist with relief and recovery.

Among the examples cited is a partnership involving global water technology provider Xylem and international development organization Mercy Corps.

The two teamed up in 2013 to “help address the added stress of the [Syrian] refugee influx on the [Jordanian] national water supply by supporting the construction of two new deeper-water wells in the Zaatari refugee camp” in Jordan, according to Xylem’s Director of Corporate Citizenship and Social Investment, Michael Fields.

Fields said the challenge of providing water to the Syrian refugees in Jordan, the fourth driest country in the world, was the greatest his company and Mercy Corps had ever faced.

Some 600,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan since civil war broke out in their country in 2011. The Zaatari refugee camp is the largest camp in the country, with nearly 100,000 residents. Xylem Watermark -- Xylem's corporate citizenship and social investment program -- together with Mercy Corps and the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have built two deep-water wells that were able to meet the daily needs of nearly 70 percent of the refugees at the camp.

Xylem Watermark’s Emergency Response Fund, a resource it created to solely address water-related crises, financed the initial project, which was later expanded with additional funding from UNICEF, ensuring that both Syrian refugees and Jordanians in the northern part of the kingdom receive the long-term aid that they need, Fields said.

“When operating at full capacity, the well will now meet the needs of virtually 100 percent of the Zaatari refugees,” he said, adding that the expansion of supplies has reduced the need to have water trucked in, saving an estimated $58,000 USD a month that can be redirected to other needs.

“But we are not only providing clean water. By relieving water stress throughout communities in northern Jordan, we are helping to mitigate underlying tensions of human displacement, ethnic conflict and war,” Fields said.

“There is no way to ‘fix’ water scarcity in Jordan,” Fields acknowledged. The crisis is “multifaceted” and therefore requires coordination across actors, including the Jordanian government, companies like Xylem, and NGOs.

Also, future efforts must take into account long-term sustainability, because while pumping out more groundwater is helpful today, more must be done to mitigate “a drier tomorrow,” he said.