85 Experts Convene in Hawaii to Address Pacific Rim Disaster Risk

August 11, 2011

This week 85 disaster experts met in Hawaii to discuss how they could work together to promote community resilience throughout the Pacific Rim, a region continually weighed down by earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, typhoons, mudslides, and other devastating events.

One attendee, Dr. Zia Khan, Vice President for Strategy and Evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, summed the complexity of both disaster risk reduction and community resilience with his description of the all-white puzzle.  Everyone can contribute to the puzzle, he suggested, but no one knows what the big picture looks like.

“There are a lot of puzzle pieces and they all fit together.  But all the pieces are white.” 

The meeting was held at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, and was attended by representatives from corporations, chambers of commerce, the U.S. military, Pacific-Rim governments, academia, non-profits, and foundations. 

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Pacific Command, the event was designed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Agency for International Development; the University of Hawaii; the U.S. Chamber’s BCLC; and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. 

The objectives of the meeting were to:

  • identify the core elements of successful disaster risk reduction and resilience and the roles for the public and private sectors;
  • develop cross-sector initiatives that will contribute to regional disaster risk reduction and resilience; and
  • discuss the implementation plan for the initiatives and their relevance to APEC (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation).

Attendees discussed at length the idea of community resilience, a concept Stephen Jordan, BCLC’s Executive Director, called the ability of a community to snap back after a disaster. Community resilience, participants agreed, requires investment before disasters and necessitates that, in many Pacific Rim communities, basic needs be addressed à la global development work. 

Many of the meeting’s talks considered how and why the private sector should be involved in aspects of community resilience. 

Mark Ward, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID, called on members of the private sector to consider how they can help mobilize communities in which their employees and customers live, both for resilience and for risk reduction. 

“The private sector has proven communications tools in communities and are flexible when time is  of the essence,” Ward noted, saying it was important to engage the whole of the private sector, from the largest multi-nationals to the smallest indigenous businesses.  On the business case for investment in disaster risk reduction, he cited a 2011 World Bank study that showed that every $1 spent to reduce risk, savings of $4 to $7 were realized in response phases.

During the event’s opening remarks on Sunday, Shane O’Conner of FedEx, the event’s sponsor, called participants to listen and learn from each other.  “We’re here to build relationships,” he said, and he emphasized that this meeting was an important start—but only a start.