Procurement in Emergency Situations — Preparing for the Hurricane Season

Last year the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) organised an intensive two-day workshop on procurement in emergency situations. The event brought together people from around the word, including people who had actively managed procurement through hurricanes, earthquakes and wars, and those who had been active on the ground trying to make sure the right supplies were able to get through. The workshop covered warehousing, supply route, customs, distribution stockpiling, and most importantly the need to maintain adherence to procurement principles and rules, even in an emergency.

Craig Brewin, formerly Head of Commissioning at Slough Council and now Caribbean-based coach and commentator on finance and procurement issues relating to the Americas and the Caribbean, attended the workshop and took note of the main points concerning procurement preparedness. Here is his interesting and sobering commentary.

"In the Caribbean a hurricane may be an emergency, but anything that has a six-month long season should not be seen as unexpected. There has to be a set of rules for procuring in a hurricane, even if the systems and specific processes have to change. This is essential if the proper support is to be obtained from the donor agencies. The declaration of an emergency should prompt a flip to the emergency rules. But there is so much more to emergency procurement than that. So intensive and detailed was last year’s workshop that my write up of it turned into six articles on sperate themes, including preparedness, governance and procurement skill – read about them here. The CDB coverage of the workshop is here.

The unprecedented 2017 season, with its 10 consecutive hurricanes (two hitting land at category five for the first time) did a lot to focus the minds of many people and agencies, with the European Governments now working closely together to ensure a more effective response. This year has already seen a Miami Conference on preparedness, organised by the British Foreign Office for its Overseas Territories.

One year on and the procurement workshop has reconvened in Barbados once again. This time at the University of the West Indies. This year the focus was on logistics, and the workshop was organised to run concurrently with, and was co-located with, a far larger multi-themed “Understanding Risk” Conference, organised by the World Bank’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management team, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the European Union. If this is sounding like a bit of an industry you need to be aware of the numbers  involved. The number of people living in areas that are prone to disaster is increasing, and the number of disasters is increasing too.

We are also facing the slow incremental changes that climate change brings, so as well as disaster response there is an increasing emphasis on building resilience into the fabric and infrastructure of society. There are key areas of the planet that have to be disaster-ready and disaster-resilient. If these conferences seem expensive to hold, it is it because their payback is greater. The CDB currently spends 10% of its budget on disaster response, and there are many other agencies involved too. Also, as the workshop was reminded, the main purpose is to save lives.

Santiago Ibargüen of PAHO, the Pan America Health Organisation, was back at the workshop again this year and said that he has been involved in emergency after emergency for many years. After each event, they sit down with other agencies to identify the lessons to be learnt, and each time they identify the same main three: better data sharing, control of unwanted donations (which clog up supply lines and take resources to sort) and ease of entry through customs. There are still shipments, we were told, for previous emergencies that never did make it through.

This time the conference had the private sector present in the form of Jenifer Neugent Hill of Tropical Shipping (she had also been at the previous month’s British conference in Miami). She said that you must never forget that most of the resources to provide relief and rebuilding are in the private sector, and they should be a key partner in developing preparedness. To help tackle the customs problem they do ensure that everything they carry in an emergency is properly described.    The Bill of Lading will always say: “for relief purposes – not for resale”. That usually works.

They also know which ships to use as they already match vessels to harbours. They plan in detail, another speaker from Tropical said that their emergency plan looked like a plan for Armageddon, but his first experience of using it demonstrated that there was much more to do.

Frank Cawkwell of the World Food Programme also focused on lessons learnt and the need to continually learn from every experience. Learning is not only drawn from the things that went wrong, but things that went right. Many tropical countries have a diaspora that wants to help, so engaging with them about what is required is all part of the pre-planning. Another example of learning what works came from Frederico Ferreira Pedroso of the World Bank who said that his experience of dealing with the last mile of supply showed that the churches tended to be the most effective distributors and were less likely to be victims of theft.

At lot of the workshop focused on the work of CEDEMA and the progress it has made, particularly in procurement over the last year. It introduced a new Procurement Manual in 2018 and has been using a former DFID procurement officer, Martin Brown, to proceduralise their principles and approach, with an array of standard documents and templates. These were made available to delegates. There is also a continued emphasis on Framework agreements, and how these should be used in an emergency situation, and to replenish the strategically placed stockpiles within the region.

The Hurricane season starts on 1st June each year, so it has now officially started. A normal season is expected, which means 9 to 15 named storms, including 4 to 8 hurricanes, and 2 to 4 reaching category three. Storm Andrea has already appeared off the coast of Bermuda. But the region is better prepared than ever."



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