Regional Humanitarian Partnerships Forum to open in Thailand
BANGKOK, 13 November 2013 (IRIN) - Government officials, academics, humanitarians and businesspeople from 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region will gather in Thailand on November 14 to explore opportunities for collaboration on innovation, real time communication, and two-way interaction between responders and communities in disasters.
The two-day Regional Humanitarian Partnerships Forum (RHPF) will kick off two years after the fourth RHPF Forum in Shanghai in 2011 highlighted the importance of pairing up with private companies to spark innovation, and the emerging and significant impact of technology on humanitarian response and disaster management.
"Everyone left the last forum thinking there is definitely [much to be done] and how do we do it," Oliver Lacey-Hall, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Asia Pacific, told IRIN.
Since then, OCHA's 2013 report Humanitarianism in the Network Age (HINA) has pushed the debate forward on how humanitarians can harness the power of technology to increase the efficiency of response.
Agreement on how to engage with the private sector has so far been "patchy", according to OCHA, and by bringing together diverse stakeholders the forum aims to expose key assumptions that might be hindering partnerships.
"The private sector focuses on their bottom line; they need to remain profitable and they need to reduce their vulnerabilities to disaster risk," Bill Ho, an information technology manager at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) in Bangkok, explained.
The forum is a platform for both sectors to come together and understand mutual interests, which can result in "a win-win situation for both", said Ho.
In the 21st century much recovery work is done by the private sector, according to Lacey-Hall.
During the 2011 Thailand floods, private companies were eager to help people get back on their feet and return to work.
The sharp rise in vulnerable urban populations - with more than 50 percent of all people globally now living in cities - means that humanitarians must strategize more innovatively on how to provide assistance to urban and increasingly tech-savvy populations - which is more complex, says OCHA.
To help, "businesses can draw on their expertise and resources to provide cash expertise and donated services," said Parichat Buranatanit, the World Food Programme's (WFP) partnership manager for the private sector, who says that since 2003, private funding has helped WFP to pilot innovative programmes.
"We are aiming and hoping to get some really clear recommendations from the workshop on all of these things to figure out how to go forward," Lacey-Hall concluded.
The meeting comes at a particularly poignant time, as the Philippine government and international community launch a massive relief effort in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda).
More than 11 million people are estimated to be affected, mostly in the eastern and western Visayas region, after the category five storm struck on 8 November.