Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Some Sniff Commercial 'Wolves' at WorldAid '96 FOR-PROFIT RELIEF

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Some Sniff Commercial 'Wolves' at WorldAid '96 FOR-PROFIT RELIEF

Article excerpt

Walking around the halls of Geneva's conference and convention center last week was like walking through a Far Side cartoon version of an L.L. Bean store. Products and slogans abound here at WorldAid '96 - from Disc-O-Bed, "the versatile answer for all emergency and disaster situations," to Foersater, "Your partner for mine detection and bomb location."

While more than 200 companies showed their stuff during this first-of-its-kind trade show for emergency and disaster-relief products, business and aid experts are debating how to work together.

"My colleagues in the UK said this is a trade fair and warned me not to go," says Michael Taylor, director of Britain-based Christian Aid. "They think that commercial wolves shouldn't be allowed to dress up in humanitarian clothing." But Mr. Taylor disagrees. This kind of convention offers precisely the right atmosphere to talk about dealing with emergencies that have become more complicated and costly, he says. In 1995, there were 30 ongoing wars and some 36 million refugees and internally displaced people. Disaster relief now costs about $500 billion a year, says Nick Cater, an emergency relief consultant from Britain. But while costs rise, total aid is falling. In 1995, the countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development contributed $53.7 billion to emergency relief, 9.3 percent less than 1994 and a 13.5 percent fall over three years. As a result, businesses see an opportunity to build relationships in developing and war-torn regions by providing the kind of aid that many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), due to less funding, are increasingly unable to provide. For example, British Petroleum has paid for women's and children's programs and job training in Colombia, with the expectation of winning public support for their gas and oil projects in the region. Disaster prevention, relief, and infrastructure development now constitutes an $8 billion-a-year market, says Odd Grann, secretary-general for Geneva-based World Aid. …

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