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Engineering sector 'crucial' to effective disaster response, says government

Engineers have a “crucial” role to play in responding to natural and man-made disasters in places like Haiti, Pakistan and East Africa international development minister Alan Duncan has said.

Addressing chief executives and senior directors of leading engineering firms and institutions including Mott MacDonald, Arup, MWH, Aecom, CH2M Hill and the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Duncan said: “Engineers and engineering companies are a crucial centre of instant disaster response; there are so many examples of where [engineering] skills can help.”

Support from the engineering community would assist the UK in making its disaster response effort “the very best in the world”, Duncan added.

Duncan was taking part in talks hosted by the Department for International Development (DFID) and facilitated by disaster relief charity RedR last week to explore how the engineering sector and government can work together to improve response to humanitarian crises caused by floods, drought, earthquakes or conflict. The event was the first of its kind to focus exclusively on the engineering sector, following the publication of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) nearly a year ago.

Engineering executives welcomed the opportunity to play a more active role in UK disaster response, a key recommendation of the review.

“The role of engineers in emergencies is as important today as it was in the 1980s,” said RedR chief executive Martin McCann. “What has changed over three decades is the context. Humanitarian response is very different in 2012, but it still needs cutting-edge engineering thinking, planning, coordination, innovation, leadership and skills. That’s what the engineering sector – including the engineering sector at a local level – can bring to the table, helping to save and rebuild more lives when disaster strikes.”

Common goals

Industry executives and government officials identified a number of common goals and challenges, including the need for:

  • Improved understanding of the ‘culture of modern humanitarianism’ amongst the engineering sector and awareness of how disaster response works in practice
  • Stronger technical partnerships between UK government, the engineering sector and NGOs, particularly in the planning phase of disaster response and recovery
  • Better awareness of the unique skills and competencies the engineering sector can bring to the various phases of disaster response – as well as recognition of the legal and financial limitations on private sector companies and their personnel
  • A move beyond the ‘corporate social responsibility’ agenda with greater awareness that, to promote a sustainable relief effort, companies need to make a profit, however small
  • Future discussions to be focussed around key thematic areas for cooperation

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