Part one: Global Trends

Sana'a, Yemen

Medical supplies and personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 response are stored in a warehouse at Sana'a International Airport. OCHA/Ahmed Haleem

The private sector continues to prove its capacity to quickly mobilize resources on the ground and strengthen emergency preparedness and recovery. In 2021, as the number of people affected by humanitarian crises continued to increase, the private sector has once again shown that it can contribute to stakeholders’ coordinated action within complex emergencies. Businesses are providing financial and in-kind contributions, including operational support.

This ranges from funding for projects identified within the GHO, to sharing expertise and core competencies. It also includes staff deployment in field operations, as well as using existing resources and infrastructure to improve the delivery of aid. The Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR have jointly established the Instant Network Schools (INS) programme, which supports access to quality, accredited digital education in Africa (see education article for further details). After a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in August 2021, the Alliance for Risk Management and Business Continuity, a local private sector network, played a key role in the response. Support was received from the Connecting Business initiative (CBi), a joint OCHA-UNDP project engaging the private sector in disaster management.

The private sector has been a key ally during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, UNICEF, leader of the COVAX procurement and logistics operation, partnered with Microsoft’s Disaster Response Team to improve the security and infrastructure of the COVAX information hub. The hub provides key stakeholders with up-to-date information on the allocations and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. Microsoft experts worked with UNICEF to track and monitor the distribution of vaccines from manufacturers through to local market delivery, increasing efficiencies and sharing real-time data with key stakeholders to help make critical decisions. Following the hub’s success, the project has expanded to include all COVAX partners and new types of vaccine product and service delivery information.

Engaging the private sector in local disaster management builds resilience by empowering communities and enabling a more efficient response, relying on local supply chains and economies. Since 2016, OCHA and UNDP’s CBi private sector member networks have raised more than $50 million for disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities and reached more than 15.5 million people in 17 countries.

With the increasing frequency and severity of extreme-weather events, such as flooding, the CBi network in Sri Lanka (the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management Sri Lanka) spearheaded a multi-stakeholder collaboration with the military to provide annual training in swift-water search-and-rescue operations.

Despite the demonstrated value of private sector contributions to humanitarian emergencies and achieving the SDGs, the private sector and particularly local businesses are frequently overlooked. The private sector is still far from being systematically included in humanitarian coordination systems. More needs to be done to fully leverage its expertise and contribution to principled and accountable disaster response and recovery in sudden-onset and complex emergencies, whether in natural hazards, or human-made conflicts and pandemics. 

Further reading