Helping Africa manufacture its own emergency and disaster relief supplies

Monday, August 6, 2012

In the current humanitarian emergencies in South Sudan, Somalia, Niger and Kenya, the strong likelihood is that tarpaulins – one of the most basic relief items – will have come from China.

Tarpaulin production is concentrated in Asia (80%), where India and China are the main manufacturers, and the US (18%). More than half of India’s output is used internally and the same goes for Pakistan, so China is a main source of tarpaulin for many of the world’s aid agencies.

Distant manufacturers mean long lead times for supplies to arrive and great expense – even if they are flown in from pre-positioned stocks in, say, Dubai or Europe. Providing supplies for humanitarian emergencies is a $15bn business.

Given that Africa has more than its fair share of emergencies, some wonder why more African firms are not manufacturing emergency supplies, from tarpaulins to blankets to mosquito nets. Not only would it make sense logistically, but it would also provide manufacturing capacity and jobs in Africa.

This was precisely what motivated David Dickie to set up Advance Aid, in 2006, after a career in publishing and advertising. A big believer in trade not aid, Dickie thinks it absurd to fly large amounts of aid material around the world to areas where unemployment is the highest on the planet.

Source: The Guardian (link opens in a new window)

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Base of the Pyramid, consumer products