Big Business is Bridging the Gap

by david.nunes
Jan EmbroIssue:Africa and the Middle East II 2003
Article no.:4
Topic:Big Business is Bridging the Gap
Author:Jan Embro
Title:Vice President & General Manager
Organisation:Ericsson, Southern Africa
PDF size:96KB

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Article abstract

Development does not depend only upon governments, it depends upon companies as well. This is especially true in the NEPAD region where countries face serious, long-standing, structural problems and can not go it alone. Corporative initiatives, in cooperation with NEPAD and United Nations agencies, have provided communications for disaster warning and relief, and provided computer and Internet support for local knowledge and distance learning programmes among others. The needs are many. Multinationals can help with ICT services, applications, content and training.

Full Article

The relationship between government, business and society has changed significantly in the past decade. Economies have become globally focussed and as a result, corporate power has increased enabling businesses to wield greater influence on global events; governments have also been challenged by the major political, social and economic changes that have occurred since the end of the Cold War and the Internet has significantly changed the way people work, live and play. These changes have lead to fiscal restraint, causing governments and the public sector to withdraw from leadership roles, and as a result the public is now looking more and more towards corporations to become actively involved in social, ethical and environmental issues. This is seen as particularly important in the NEPAD region where countries are often threatened by entrenched poverty, environmental and labour concerns. One such area of concern is that of disaster relief. According to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies World Disasters Report 2001, more disasters, natural and non-natural, were reported in 2000 than in any other year over the last decade. The disasters affected 256 million people and caused overall financial losses, not counting indirect economic damage amounting to almost US$ 50 billion. On average, natural disasters accounted for 88 per cent of all deaths from disasters over the last decade. Non-natural disasters killed 86,923 during the same period. Death counts and dollar figures make headlines, but they don’t tell the whole story. There is no simple way to account for the immediate and long-term cost of disasters to the lives of the survivors. Disasters leave in their wake not only broken homes and towns, but broken lives. And while disasters affect both rich and poor, people living in developing countries tend to be less prepared and suffer more than people in developed countries. It is the tremendous human suffering which is the most troubling legacy of disasters. The fact is, disasters are getting bigger and more frequent. Climate change, increasing concentrations of people in vulnerable areas, and political and economic instability in some parts of the world will intensify disasters in scope and impact. It is important to note that some disasters are “complex” – that is, they involve both natural and non-natural phenomena. For example, a refugee situation can be caused both by a natural disaster and a political conflict; flooding may be caused by deforestation; wars or the political control of water systems may cause droughts and crop failures. Experts say a successful response is based on a few key factors: preparedness, a quick local response, logistics, coordination and communications. Preparedness means a disaster response plan that outlines what to do and how to deploy available services. It means a fast local response – the first 24 to 48 hours are critical when it comes to saving lives. Logistics is crucial when moving people out of harm’s way, or when moving emergency services, or relief workers, into a disaster area. Coordination is vital when so many players are involved who need to know what’s going on, what’s needed, and where. And through it all, there is a need for communications to ensure fast and effective response to human suffering caused by disasters. Hans Zimmermann, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)says, “The communications technology of today, and its applications for emergency telecommunications as well as by the media, play an essential role in disaster response.” This belief is echoed by a statement made by Iain Logan, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) operations in North and Latin America: “Having functional telecommunications is invaluable in a disaster situation. It allows organisations to effectively and efficiently organise relief efforts and get help to people who most desperately need it.” Communications can warn people about imminent disasters, help coordinate an immediate response, link and deploy resources and rejoin people with their loved ones. And it is here that mobile communications technology, coupled with skilled resources, can play a critical role, thus creating an opportunity for corporations to make a significant contribution in disaster response to react to and alleviate human suffering. This includes supporting the technological infrastructure of NEPAD member states by developing centres of excellence, expertise and resources to assist them in emergency relief programmes as well as the production of applications and content reflecting differing needs, languages and cultures in times of peace and prosperity. Acting with partner organisations that administer disaster response programs, including the United Nations Development Program -UNDP, UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs-OCHA and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies-IFRC, local initiatives may be fostered to ensure greater preparedness in the event of disasters using, among other programmes, telecommunications work groups to determine the best possible technical response for communications in the case of disaster. One such initiative is the Ericsson Response programme launched in May 2000 to develop disaster preparedness programs around the world in consultation with United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). To date, the company has been involved in a number of relief efforts in NEPAD member states. This year the Response programme worked with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)’s operation in Liberia to assist with telecommunications/IT including the set-up of satellite telecommunication and e-mail facilities for WFP sub offices in the field. In 2002 the unit worked in Tanzania to assist organisations such as the International Red Cross, UNHCR, UNICEF, CARE and Tanzania Red Cross to help hundreds of thousands of refugee’s from The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, by implementing a network infrastructure to link three major refugee camps to the outside world for the first time. A joint venture with Tanzanian telecommunications company, Mobitel, the network provides voice and data communications enabling synergy between the communication and information needs of the local communities, the relief organisations working to help refugees and the refugees themselves. When heavy rainstorms struck Algeria after months of drought in November 2001 hundreds were killed and thousands injured when a deluge of mud, debris and water poured from the hills into the city of Algiers. Homes were buried and communities were submersed as a result. A field assessment by a coordination team sent by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to determine the scale of the disaster ascertained that the fixed communications network had been damaged and that communications had been wiped out in some areas. To solve the crisis faced by the Algerian disaster relief effort Ericsson moved swiftly to supply solutions and skills to support and respond to the challenges met in the field. These included the donation of mobile phones to help relief organisations with their work, increasing the capacity of the local mobile network and using a switch with 400 lines to restore communications to the flooded area. Another approach multinationals may take to uplift communities is to become involved with schemes that cover a multitude of services, applications and content provided via multi-purpose community centres. Such centres offer training, government information and services, SMME support and community media and resource facilities. Businesses can also add value by partnering with educational institutions in areas such as the re-designing of education and research processes, the development of global research networks to address common problems, the promotion of both local and regional consortia to integrate local knowledge and distance learning programmes. An example of this is Ericsson’s funding of South Africa’s Rhodes University Maths Programme (RUMEP) project, MathsNet. conclusion MathsNet provides computer and Internet support infrastructure to mathematics teachers and helps them to improve their professional practice. MathsNet teachers may come together online to provide support and encouragement for each others’ professional growth as well as working as agents of change and development in their own communities in the rural areas of E Cape. As a result of the funding, teachers who had never previously worked on a computer are now able to confidently develop electronic teaching and administration resources for distribution within the MathsNet project.

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