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We are delighted to publish a series of guest posts from Craig Brewin, about the Procurement issues arising from last year’s hurricane season, as covered at the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) special conference. Craig is a Caribbean-based procurement professional, whose further coverage can be found on the CDB website.

In June this year the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD) and World Bank held a high-level workshop for Heads of Procurement in the Caribbean. The theme was procurement in emergency situations and the timing was designed to coincide with the start of this year’s hurricane season. People will have seen the carnage caused by last year’s hurricanes on the TV but it is still difficult to describe the damage and the lasting affect. There were 10 consecutive hurricanes in 2017, with two hitting land at category 5 for only the second time in recorded history. Officially around 1,000 people perished across the Caribbean and the USA, and it was the most damaging season on record with total costs estimated to be nearly $300 bn (US).

But the real death toll is probably far higher. A study by Harvard indicated the official figure of 64 deaths for Puerta Rico and estimated that after taking into account the ongoing mortality rate due to persistent lack of water, faltering power and a general lack of essential services, the death toll runs into the 1,000s.

Faced with all this human tragedy, it is not surprising that the business aspects of response and recovery were not prominent in the news. But it is a big issue, and CDB with the World Bank brought together not only people with direct experience of managing procurement through last year’s catastrophes, but people who have managed procurement in disaster situations in other parts of the world over the last decade. It was an impressive line-up.

One of the key messages was that Procurement needs to play a key role in emergency planning, disaster response and recovery. Purchasing and logistics need to be considered together and procurement’s understanding of local markets, and what is feasible, can feed into key decision making. Crucially, procurement can make sure that the due diligence around purchasing is robust enough to satisfy financial donors. There were also a number of repeated messages about preparedness and balancing due diligence with flexibility. Subsequent articles on this topic will look at these issues in more detail.

The tone was set by the opening speaker, Joao N. Veiga Malta, from the World Bank, who stated that NGOs and governments must prepare in advance for emergency, including stockpiling and establishing frameworks and also be able to balance due diligence and speed in the emergency situation. Hurricanes are seasonal and the procurement system should be designed with that in mind. Professionals must be able to use the whole procurement tool kit and ensure the needs of donors are met in terms of contracts and records. “If you do do a deal on the back of an envelope, keep the envelope”.

The other central message of CDB was that they were there to help. It was in their interests to see the best use of resources, that contracts are in place, that there are effective frameworks with pre-vetted supplies, some mitigation against price gouging, and secure supply routes. But they wanted to see procurement at the top table and working in the field. The profession has a big role to play at every stage.

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