INTERVIEW: Website plays matchmaker for India disaster aid

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 2 July 2009 13:51 GMT

NEW DELHI - In India as elsewhere, the challenge of getting aid to disaster survivors often boils down to supply and demand.

Relief workers identify specific needs - tents, say, or generators. They then have to scrabble around for suppliers, negotiate prices and figure out how to get the goods where they're needed in time to make a difference.

Until recently, the process has often been ad hoc and slow. But now an online matchmaking service promises to link aid groups with local firms best placed to deliver the goods quickly and cheaply.

"ItÂ?s about providing the right aid to the right people in the right time," Kuldip Nar, managing director of the Corporate Disaster Resource Network (CDRN) initiative, told AlertNet.

"This will mean relief will reach affected populations quicker as time will be saved by aid agencies that have to look for such items locally or overseas and these items will be made available at discounted prices."

India is considered one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, vulnerable to all kinds of natural hazards including droughts, floods, earthquakes and cyclones.

The scale and intensity of such disasters often take a heavy toll on communities, leaving them dependent on the government and humanitarian agencies for their most basic needs.

CDRN allows government officials and aid workers to feed in real-time information on the most pressing requirements. Then companies working in fields ranging from telecommunications and transport to healthcare and food can tap into the system and respond.

The network, which is supported by India's National Disaster Management Authority and a civil society group called CSO Partners, also lets firms make cash donations and supply skilled volunteers during emergencies.

International organisations such as Global Hand and Global Impact have long acted as brokers between the private sector and humanitarian groups, but CDRN bills itself as the first of its kind in the developing world.

According to Nar, its chief point of difference is that it lets relief workers source all their materials locally, saving time and money and helping boost the national economy.

He said there were plans to set up a similar initiative in Afghanistan and possibly in other countries in Asia.

Udyama, a local aid agency based in the disaster-prone eastern Indian state of Orissa, registered on CDRN earlier this year.

Â?We have managed to source 20,000 tarpaulin sheets and 20,000 tents through the CDRN,Â? said Pradeep Mahapatra, team leader at Udyama, which focuses on building sustainable rural livelihoods as well as providing post-disaster relief.

Â?Normally we have to go to individual donors, which takes time and does not always yield results, but the CDRN is easier as you just feed in what you need and then you get an email telling you someone can help.Â?

Since it was launched in November, 600 companies and business federations and 146 non-governmental organisations have registered on the site.

Companies include Britannia, a maker of biscuits and cereals; Eureka Forbes, a supplier of water purifiers; J.K. Generator, which produces power back-up systems; and B.D. Industries, which makes plastic products such as food containers.

Registered aid agencies include ActionAid and environmental group WWF, as well as small, local organisations that often lack the contacts to source relief materials on their own.

Nar said interest in the network was growing as companies sought to boost their corporate social responsibility credentials and tap into new markets for their products.