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Crisis management of ODA to be reviewed due to COVID-19 – Opportunity to acquire more project orders

IDJ ENGLISH International Development Journal  2020 July edition


Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, even consulting companies and development industries are unable to travel locally and are forced to suspend some businesses. Crisis management in Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been strengthening anti-terrorism measures in recent years. However, in the future, reviewing the response to infectious disease risk may become a new challenge.


Strengthening the response to infectious disease risk

Due to the spread of COVID-19, the emergency declaration issued in Japan on April 7th was completely lifted on May 25th. In the future, according to the infection situation in the area, restrictions on going out and holding events will be gradually relaxed. Meanwhile, the government has begun talks to ease restrictions on overseas travel, but the cautious stance remains. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) also expressed the view that it would be difficult to travel to overseas countries for the time being, and ODA-related parties such as development consulting companies manage their projects through trial and error.

For example, in some technical cooperation projects, the preparation of training manuals and the facility design work are replaced by domestic work. In addition, a company that used its own products to collect data on pumping water locally is now considering using it for research operations in Japan. On the other hand, at a company that has received an ODA loan project, consultants staying in developing countries are working from home via telework with local government officials.

However, there are limits to what can be replaced with domestic operations. If the situation whereby travel is not possible continues for an extended period, the development industry’s management will be unavoidable. Under such circumstances, some companies have applied for support measures such as the sustainability benefits announced by the Japanese government.

Nonetheless, in developing countries, they have been exposed to the threat of infectious diseases many times. A large number of dengue fever victims caused many deaths in South America earlier this year, and the Paraguayan government declared a public health emergency in February. Regarding such infectious diseases that occurred locally, “Each company has judged and responded in various ways, including waiting at home and evacuating,” said Mr. Yoshihiro Ozaki, Founder and Representative of Kaigai-anzen.jp., which consults on overseas safety management operations of private companies.

Mr. Ozaki was a JICA staff member with experience in the Safety Management Department. He is also a graduate of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Hokkaido University and has knowledge of zoonotic diseases. “This COVID-19 crisis is not particularly surprising. Since living organisms are alive, infectious diseases are an unavoidable risk. It is a prerequisite for development projects including ODA. What we have to do now is becoming clearer this time,” he emphasizes.

In fact, as mentioned above, various infectious diseases are prevalent in developing countries, and various measures are taken in conventional crisis management in ODA. For example, JICA provides the dispatched experts and members of overseas cooperation teams with information on the basic knowledge and prevention of infectious diseases, alerts, and recommends the use of preventive drugs. In addition, JICA is aware of local epidemics and is working with medical institutions. When an infectious disease occurs, they also provide assistance for emergency transportation, recommend medical checks before and after returning to Japan, and if necessary, provide health consultation immediately after returning to Japan.

However, according to Mr. Ozaki, private companies as well as those involved in ODA, including JICA, did not pay much attention to the response to risks that became a global pandemic. In particular, in the crisis management of ODA-related persons, the focus on strengthening countermeasures against terrorism and criminal acts following the terrorist attacks on the Dhaka Restaurant in Bangladesh in 2016. In JICA, the Safety Management Department was established, and efforts have been made to implement practical training for counter-terrorism to the personnel assigned to the field and training for the personnel responsible for safety management to a wider range of personnel.

The spread of COVID-19, not terrorism, restricted movement globally, forced social and economic activities of each country to stop functioning, and cast a big shadow on the continuation of development cooperation this time. “Overlooked risks” including infectious disease risks will become more important factors in crisis management than ever before.


Issues to be addressed by management

COVID-19 is very different in scale from the infectious diseases that have occurred locally. Therefore, it would be impractical to entrust one company with the decision to reopen projects. Regarding the future direction, Mr. Ozaki points out, “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and JICA need to provide a guideline regarding the criteria for resuming travel”. On that basis, “the risks that can be taken locally will change depending on the vision and mission of each company, including development consulting companies. The company will respond to the local government while taking into consideration the guidelines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is also necessary for companies to decide whether or not to restart their projects, taking into consideration the opinions of their employees’ families,” Mr. Ozaki says.

Not so many companies have been able to build a crisis management system in anticipation of a pandemic like this one. However, it does not mean that a pandemic will not happen again. For this reason, it is important for the management of companies to build a crisis management system that takes these risks into account. It is also a good idea to use this as an opportunity to identify risks such as local politics, geopolitical risks and religious conflicts, and then review the measures for each. It will be effective to carefully consider the location of risks and their countermeasures from the current point of view also deciding when to resume business. Furthermore, appealing the attitude of being able to protect their own safety may be one of the management strategies that creates added value for their projects.

In addition, it is essential to ensure the health and safety of the people involved in the project when resuming the project locally. It is also important to prepare safety measures against infectious disease risks in advance, such as creating a manual for infection prevention measures, including hand washing.


Emphasis on proposal evaluation

Building a company-specific crisis management system is even more necessary to obtain projects from international organizations. This is because, in projects ordered by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), etc., we cannot expect the generous protection that gives detailed instructions such as evacuation timing in the event of an emergency. Although there are guidelines for safety measures, in most cases, companies that carry out the projects will submit proposals on specific safety measures, and, if approved, those companies will be personally responsible for proceeding with the projects.

Mr. Ozaki said, “By incorporating safety measures into the proposal, the safety awareness of the team in charge of the proposal will also be improved”. He added, “For that purpose, it is necessary for each person involved to understand the risks and to ‘make the safety measures a culture’ ”.

In JICA’s projects, corporate crisis management and safety management are regarded as one of the evaluation items as a “backup system for project operations” in proposal evaluation. According to JICA, with the spread of the COVID-19 infection, they plan to focus more on the content of infectious disease control in this evaluation item. In that case, establishing a crisis management system that includes the risk of infectious diseases has the potential to lead not only to the proper implementation and continuation of projects, but also to the acquisition of new projects.

At present, an industry group is revising the importance of safety measures including infectious prevention in the COVID-19 crisis, and has begun to revise its website in order to call on member companies to establish a crisis management system. With the increasing momentum for each company to build a crisis management system, I think it would be good if these movements spread to the development industry. (Michi Sewaki)





























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『国際開発ジャーナル』 2020年7月号掲載記事

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