Caribbean private sector

The Caribbean, a region highly vulnerable to multiple hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes and epidemics, currently faces the full force of the climate crisis. Local, regional and international organizations are working to manage and mitigate the region’s disaster risk by establishing robust multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS) as well as climate- and disaster-resilient infrastructure.

The Caribbean private sector has also invested in these disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts. During and after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, businesses in the region grew more conscious of the risks posed by multiple hazards and the need for resilient forms of investment. In 2019 the Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM) network began supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in adapting their business models to the COVID-19 pandemic and in digitalizing business practices, which helped bolster the countries’ economic resilience.

Formed in 2019, CARICHAM is a network of 21 national chambers of commerce, each one representing over 100,000 different businesses in the Caribbean. With DRR undergirding its work, CARICHAM has partnered with key organizations such as the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to help build resilience for economies and societies in the region.

CARICHAM has four pillars of activity:

  1. Trade facilitation: promoting regional trade and improving transport links
  2. Advocacy and member value: adding value to the region’s private sector
  3. DRR: building more resilient economies and societies
  4. Sharing best practices: learning from each other

CARICHAM has gained valuable experience from operating during disasters, which it has shared with its members and partners. This has enhanced cooperation within the regional organizations, including those in the private sector.

As a recent member of the Regional Early Warning Systems Consortium (REWSC), CARICHAM has also been securing private-sector views on regional governance mechanisms. While recognition of the private sector’s role in MHEWS and multi-stakeholder investment is growing, the current Caribbean business profile is hampering investment in resilience, mainly due to the informal nature of MSMEs.

MSMEs form the bedrock of local, regional and international markets, and yet when disasters strike, they are hit harder and are slower to recover than larger companies. Women-led MSMEs face additional barriers when disasters happen, making the need for a healthier, more resilient private sector even more pressing. MSMEs are also often one the first to respond to disasters. For example, during the 2020–2021 La Soufrière eruptions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, private businesses invested in and mobilized emergency supplies for their communities.

In 2015, UNDRR established the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) to encourage the private sector to become a crucial partner in DRR efforts. ARISE has grown to comprise over 400 members and 29 networks worldwide, all of whom are committed to the alliance’s four main priority areas:

  • Enhancing the resilience of SMEs
  • Integrating disaster and climate risk into investment decisions by the financial sector 
  • Incentivizing DRR and enhanced data for risk-informed decision-making through engagement with the insurance industry as a global risk manager 
  • Supporting the development of resilient infrastructure

In close coordination with ARISE and CARICHAM members, UNDRR is promoting private-sector engagement on the design, development and implementation of MHEWS. One achievement of this coordination has been the CARICHAM Business Resilience Toolkit, which consists of a business continuity plan, guide and templates, which are offered in five languages, and includes audiovisual material for users. The United Nations Children's Fund also contributed to the toolkit.

Another achievement has been the CARICHAM Center of Excellence, a virtual platform dedicated to creating shared value as a mechanism for building MSME resilience across the Caribbean. Developed with the additional support of UNDRR, the UPS Foundation and the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Caribbean Initiative, this platform contains a resource hub filled with free and accessible materials on business continuity planning, MHEWS, DRR, digital best practices, pandemic recovery, financial management and operational support.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Head of UNDRR Mami Mizutori drew attention to the pivotal role of the private sector in enabling cooperation, knowledge exchange and business resilience across the region, but also cautioned that businesses and other stakeholders remain convinced that investing in DRR is a cost and not an investment.

UNDRR oversees the implementation of the Sendai Framework 2015–2030, which encourages private-sector financial institutions (including financial regulator, accounting bodies and MSMEs) to integrate DRR into business models and practices. By doing this, the private sector would vastly enhance each of the elements of MHEWS – i) disaster risk knowledge, ii) monitoring and forecasting, iii) warning and dissemination; iv) response capabilities, and the enabling pillar of MHEWS Governance – and make business and community resilience a reality in the Caribbean.

The ongoing efforts of UNDRR, CARICHAM and ARISE networks are demonstrating that, in the long run, private-sector investment in DRR and disaster prevention pays off, and that a disaster-resilient future benefits everyone.

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