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    Aid Agencies Buy Locally for Tsunami Relief


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2005

    Photo: International Committee of the Red Cross Volunteers help pack family kits for the ICRC relief operation in Asia.

    Aid agencies are buying supplies from Asia and other developing regions following the Asian tsunami in December 2004. ITC's networks of developing country suppliers are playing a role.

    Agencies and firms that have participated in ITC buyers-sellers meetings over the past several years are tapping their new networks and skills to provide emergency and reconstruction supplies and simultaneously bolster development efforts.

    Humanitarian relief operations, such as those for the tsunami survivors, must deliver goods as quickly as possible to affected areas. These are often in developing countries.

    When aid agencies buy supplies from the region, they help local economies grow and reduce communities' vulnerability to man-made or natural disasters.

    ITC research into trade opportunities in Africa and Asia revealed that international agencies buying items for these areas often do not have the time or the means to identify appropriate local sources, and also that firms don't know how to approach the organizations. For several years, ITC initiatives have brought together aid agencies and suppliers at buyers-sellers meetings, so that they can learn about each other's needs and priorities. ITC's work in preparing profiles of firms for its meetings helped identify reliable suppliers in Asia and Africa that could supply necessary goods on time for the tsunami efforts.

    Regional matchmaking

    When Marie-Jésus Otaegui went to Singapore to support the relief efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), she turned to ITC for help in finding suppliers.

    "Having worked with ITC, I knew that it had researched firms that could supply some of the items we sought," she says. "ITC suggested we contact its local partner, the International Trade Institute of Singapore, which helped organize buyers-sellers meetings in the region." The Institute worked with ICRC to find local suppliers. Among them, they found a manufacturer of medical supplies - destined for Aceh Province, Indonesia - that participated in ITC's AsiaHealthCare 2004 buyers-sellers meeting.

    The supplier of soap bars for family kits that they identified was also a participant in ITC's 2001 pan-Asian buyers-sellers meeting on agro-products and processed foods. ICRC has distributed 60,000 family kits in Aceh and 30,000 in Sri Lanka. Each kit contains items such as blankets, tarpaulins and ropes, sleeping mats, bed sheets and towels, kitchen sets, lanterns, matches, candles, water containers and soap.

    Although ICRC bought many supplies from the region - from China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Singapore and Sri Lanka - to meet its needs quickly, it also sourced goods from the Middle East and Africa. ICRC buyers purchased kerosene lanterns and blankets from Kenya, and kitchenware from Egypt and from India via a South African trader to distribute in south-east Asia.

    ICRC also asked the Institute to help identify reliable traders to provide materials for kits for self-employed people and small business owners, such as carpenters, launderers, hairdressers, food-stall operators and mechanics, so that they could resume or rebuild their livelihoods. For example, a laundry-shop kit contains washbasins, laundry detergent, clotheslines and pegs, an iron and an ironing board; a tailor's kit contains a sewing machine, iron, sewing needles and pins, thread, measuring tape and scissors.

    African firms contribute

    Some African companies that participated in ITC's Buying from Africa for Africa meetings in Kenya, Senegal and South Africa, said aid agencies they met during these events have contacted them.

    For instance, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) contacted a South African producer of water containers, and another South African trader placed orders with this producer for distribution in south-east Asia.

    Companies have also contacted buyers they met during the meetings. A South African producer of tents, tarpaulins, multi-purpose plastic sheeting and mosquito nets, wrote to the United Nations offering to supply relief items to tsunami victims in south-east Asia; it subsequently obtained a contract to supply 26,000 tarpaulins.

    Aid agencies looking for suppliers of emergency relief items, such as food, tents, blankets, kitchenware, soap, plastic sheeting and medical supplies, in Africa or Asia may contact ITC (betemps@intracen.org ).

    Sylvie Bétemps(betemps@intracen.org )is ITC Assistant Trade Promotion Adviser. Marie-Jésus Otaegui, Catherine Taupiac, Govind Venuprasad and Prema de Sousa also contributed to this article.