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Private Sector Summit on Post-Tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction - Remarks by Dan Christman

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 - 8:00pm

Private Sector Summit on Post-Tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction
Introductory Remarks by Dan Christman
U.S. Chamber Senior Vice President, International Affairs

May 12, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to echo the sentiment of Doug Bereuter and Vishakha Desai. Welcome to this important conference! There are over 300 people in attendance this morning — people who took time out of their busy schedules to discuss the critical work that is being undertaken halfway around the globe.

In mid-January, the Chamber organized the first of these private sector tsunami response conferences, in cooperation with the organizations involved in this effort today. It pleases me greatly that we have such a large turnout for this conference as well.

On December 27, we were horrified, shocked, stunned. For the first week, we all watched news footage in disbelief: on a beautiful sunny morning, along tranquil beaches, in an instant, millions of lives were changed forever.

People all over the world collectively asked – what can I do to help? Individuals, companies, governments and relief agencies immediately swung into action. This urgent desire to help became an unprecedented outpouring of assistance from the private sector.

From this enormous, almost unprecedented tragedy, has emerged an enormous opportunity – to rethink, and to recast, and to reorganize, how rehabilitation, and reconstruction might best be accomplished. That's the purpose of my brief remarks this morning – and the purpose of our first group of speakers that will follow.

According to the estimates of The Chamber's Center for Corporate Citizenship, American companies have generated $528 million in cash and in-kind contributions; over 130 companies have made donations of $1 million or more. This is the largest response by U.S. business to an international disaster.

Just to emphasize the significance of this response: after Hurricane Mitch destroyed much of Central America, U.S. business contributions to the recovery effort amounted to $70 million dollars – which had been the largest response to an international crisis until the tsunami. Only the September 11 terrorist attacks generated a larger response from the U.S. business community.

Today, we are here to talk about post-tsunami needs that remain, and what the private sector can do to best help the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases.

The pictures on TV of tsunami victims, women and children and wounded, that inspired so many to open their wallets, are no longer on the nightly news. But a difficult and lengthy process is just beginning: the planning stage, for redesigning communities, figuring out how to make coastal communities safer and better prepared for future disasters, rebuilding roads, schools, mosques, health clinics, and sanitation systems.

This is the hard part. It's hard part because we want to see tangible results from the huge sums of money that have been pledged. We want to see news reports of houses and schools being rebuilt; of kids walking to school; and people being able to go back to the normal, "everyday" of their lives. But it is critical, if this effort is to be successful, that we focus on the important over the urgent! Granted, when so many people are living in such misery, it is very difficult to have the patience to focus on the long term.

For sure, relief organizations are already rebuilding houses, and jury-rigging highways, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructures to meet immediate needs. But: elements like appropriate planning and building codes, and responsive, accountable administrative systems need to be designed. We must support sustainable, long-term economic growth, and stable, less vulnerable communities. These vital planning tasks take time!

The litmus test for judging whether this outpouring of assistance has been used effectively will be what is left behind after the reconstruction phase is completed. The measure of success will not be found in balance sheets and statistics; it will be found in communities – in greater economic opportunities, in better access to health and sanitation systems, and in more durable communications and transportation infrastructure.

To be clear: this is not something that the international development community will do TO or FOR the Sri Lankans, or Indonesians, or the other countries affected by the Tsunami. It will be a process that we do WITH the local governments.

This requires humility and a willingness to accept that we don't have all of the answers. It requires a collaborative spirit, and a willingness to share information, and coordinate activities. And, it requires a long-term view — one that takes into account not just urgent, short-term needs; but incorporates a holistic approach: linking aid, trade and investment, governance, relationship building, information sharing, and capacity building. A strategy that, in the appropriate words of former President Clinton, will allow us to "build back better".


I also want to take this opportunity to make a recommendation to all of our friends from non-governmental organizations. Arrange meetings with the businesses who have given so generously to your organizations for tsunami assistance. Engage them about how they would like to see this money spent. And, most importantly, encourage them to use their unique strengths to add value to the projects you will undertake. This is a significant opportunity to encourage new ways of thinking about how we can all work together to support reconstruction AND economic development. Let's not pass this up.

The benefits are clear, if we approach the tsunami reconstruction process with this mind-set. We can clearly illustrate to the peoples of the region that we are partners, that we have a vested interest in their successful recovery. It will show the governments of the region that we respect their sovereignty; it will show the peoples of the region that we are there to help.

And one benefit that I hope we can realize is to use this experience to create a model for future disaster assistance initiatives!

The U.S. Chamber at large and our Center for Corporate Citizenship will continue to organize meetings and conferences that address ongoing assistance needs. We will facilitate collaborative networks, build public-private partnerships, and engage leading companies and their partners to promote long-term strategies and public policies to advance these goals.

We will continue to disseminate information about ongoing needs and projects. We will use lessons learned from this effort to help devise a long-term strategy for effective, immediate, private sector response to international crises. We will continue the discussion with American business on how to best encourage the goals of economic development and economic diversification. And, we will highlight best practices and lessons learned from public-private partnership efforts, which can be used as models for economic development in other regions of the world. Quite simply, the U.S. Chamber and the Center for Corporate Citizenship will continue to support this effort for as long as it takes.

In that spirit, I'd like to put a brief plug in for some of our upcoming activities. On May 19, as part of the CCC's annual Partnership Conference, Myron Brilliant, our Vice President for East Asia, will chair a discussion about next steps in Tsunami aid, public-private communication, and collaboration.

Also on July 12, the CCC will host a forum on how the lessons learned from the Tsunami experience can help future disaster assistance response efforts. For more details, the Chamber's website is listed in your handouts. I encourage you to participate in these discussions – on May 19th and July 12th.