Managing disasters: an invitation to be part of the new reality

Wednesday, 09 April 2014

The Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 was memorable for many reasons: it cruelly took nearly 6,500 lives and made history as Japan’s second largest earthquake of the 20th century. I also remember it as the front page story on the first ICMIF newsletter I ever read, when I began working at the Federation. The story told how the Japanese cooperatives had immediately undertaken extensive recovery operations, staff were sent to the affected areas and emergency payments were quickly made. It was an extraordinary and terrible catastrophe but one which was met with an urgent and very necessary response, which as I was to learn, is very typical of the cooperative sector.

In the 19 years that have since passed, many ICMIF members have been at the sharp end of major catastrophes such as the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004), Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and New Zealand earthquakes (2011) and very recently Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines (2013). Weather and seismic activity have wreaked yet more havoc for ICMIF members in the last few months. The horror and destruction of such events continually appals me; the recovery work that the cooperative/mutual sector does still amazes me. It is, I believe, one of the most remarkable aspects of our sector.

Current science tells us that catastrophes are set to continue extending their geographical spread, taking more lives, and incurring higher recovery and rebuilding costs. Business sense tells us that our sector needs to continue playing a crucial role in reducing disaster risk – but with a new reality. The recovery programmes which have marked out cooperatives and mutuals as insurers of choice in the past are no longer enough on their own: we also need to contribute, as a sector, to the broader issues of policy development and risk prevention. If we ignore this opportunity, we ignore our organizations’ business needs and our member-owners’ socio-economic needs.

ICMIF is already working hard on the sector’s behalf in these areas: many of you will have read the recent blog by Shaun Tarbuck about our recent meetings with, among others, the United Nations, the World Bank, the OECD, the European Commission and the International Insurance Society. The meetings were organized by Willis Group to create a powerful “resilience triumvirate” of capital, policy and science which will make a real difference to the way in which disasters are managed in the future.

ICMIF is now a key partner in the preparations for a two-week series of high-level events in London this summer, which will bring together these three sectors, plus their knowledge and capabilities, alongside their commitment and influence. We are proud to be representing the cooperative/mutual insurance sector and are looking forward to actively contributing to the debate on disaster risk reduction and resilience. But we also need ICMIF members to join us there, to demonstrate that our sector’s commitment to this global issue isn’t just about words, but is real, committed and active.

So what’s happening and when?

We will also be organizing a meeting for all ICMIF members who will be in London, on 26 or 27 June, to prioritize ICMIF’s next actions in the international work on resilience; to agree where and how we should focus our energies; and to explore how to maximize the value of reducing disaster risk for the benefit of our member-owners.

We will be using the ICMIF Sustainability Leaders’ Forum (SLF), established late last year, as our platform for members to participate in our sector representation (while acknowledging that resilience and disaster risk reduction are only part of being a sustainable insurer).  No formal participation or permanent commitment is required to join us – just the energy and passion for reducing disaster risk, protecting lives and (re)building strong communities that we know are an inherent part of being a cooperative/mutual insurer.

Please contact me at faye@icmif.org if you would like to join us at any of the London events, if you are interested in helping us represent our sector in the resilience debate, or if you want to be part of the ICMIF Sustainability Leaders’ Forum.

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