Pursuing Better Together with Sanj Srikanthan
Sanj Srikanthan, Chief Executive of disaster relief charity ShelterBox, talks about his organisation’s work in helping communities recover from natural disasters and build resilience against future events in the latest episode of Arch’s ‘Pursuing Better Together’ podcast series.
This summer’s flooding in Pakistan, driven by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains and exacerbated by run-off from melting glaciers, was one of the deadliest floods in recent memory, triggering a national state of emergency.
Disaster relief charity ShelterBox is involved in the ongoing emergency response to the catastrophe, which affected a third of provinces in Pakistan.
“Flooding is the most common type of climate-related disaster that we respond to,” Sanj says. “It’s incredibly common, and becoming dangerously more unpredictable, more frequent, and more severe. And the floods in Pakistan are probably one of the most significant cases in recent times of that.
With approximately one tenth of the country severely affected by the flooding and millions of people displaced, ShelterBox wasted no time in getting vital aid to those in dire need.
“Our initial aim was to get aid into the country as quickly as possible,” he says, “because our shelter kit is pretty well tailored to most flooding situations – It’s something we’re familiar with. Then we worked out where the neediest families are and where our emergency shelters can do the most good. It will never meet all demands, but it certainly is a starting point for recovery for those who’ve had their homes flooded.”
ShelterBox, of which Arch is proud to be a charity partner, was set up in 2000 to address the immediate need for shelter faced by people made homeless by disasters. The organisation provides shelter, essential items and technical assistance to communities, helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people recover and rebuild their homes after disaster or conflict.
“What the founders saw is that when disasters occurred, people were provided with food and medicine, but the thing families were left to sort out for themselves was shelter,” says Sanj. “They set up ShelterBox to provide the kind of shelter that will give safety and security to families and allow them to start rebuilding their lives for the long term.”
The task facing organisations like ShelterBox is immense. Since it was formed, the charity has helped over 2 million people. Tellingly, almost half of those have been in the last seven years. “The world is becoming more unpredictable, more dangerous, and hotter,” says Srikanthan. “So, in spite of the mission of the humanitarian community, the scale of the problem is getting bigger.”
Sanj says the number of people made homeless by disaster or conflict passed 100 million this year and is expected to reach 113 million on the back of recent events. Around 83% of that number come from lower- and middle-income countries, with neighbouring countries providing shelter for those affected in the vast majority of cases.
Arch Insurance International’s brand promise of ‘Pursuing Better Together’ places an emphasis on collaboration, responsiveness and a commitment to continually raising the bar, which aligns closely with the aims of an organisation like ShelterBox.
“What Pursuing Better Together means is understanding what each of us contributes to this picture,” he says.
The approach of organisations like ShelterBox has shifted towards partnership with local organisations, demonstrating how those partners, using local adaptions and techniques, have a better understanding of how to respond after a disaster.
“We pass on some of the essential skills, governance and financial training that enables committed local organisations to access funding,” says Sanj. “Success for us is not just about leaving a community better off, but leaving a civil society around them that is stronger and more capable of supporting them in the future.”
In many of the communities that ShelterBox serves, there is little or no insurance cover for disaster relief, which is something the organisation wants to explore in terms of its potential for making those communities more resilient.
Another important part of the organisation’s strategy is to deliver short-term emergency relief projects in a way that does no harm.
Ultimately, he says, it is ShelterBox’s partners who help the organisation think about the impact it is having in their communities.
“Those local partners will be there after we have gone, and can tell us which kind of shelter or assistance their communities need to build a lasting recovery,” he says. “If we can get to a point where we don’t need to respond, because we’ve empowered local organisations and partners to do that the next time, that is mission success.”
About Arch Insurance International Podcasts
During our Pursuing Better Together series, we’ll hear from luminaries both inside and outside of the insurance industry about how they have “pursued better” within their chosen professions.