Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

UAE philanthropist: emergency response must change to save more lives

Poor communication and co-ordination with governments reducing donor impact in disaster relief

Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of VPS Healthcare, has called on governments and charities to work more closely together to help those in need during emergency situations. Delores Johnson / The National
Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of VPS Healthcare, has called on governments and charities to work more closely together to help those in need during emergency situations. Delores Johnson / The National

Disaster response must adapt in the social media age if the most vulnerable are to fully benefit from emergency aid, a UAE philanthropist has said.

At a Milken Institute discussion in California this month, Dr Shamsheer Vayalil told a panel of economists and entrepreneurs, who met to co-ordinate a more resilient disaster response in future, that better communication between governments and charities would help aid workers access those most in need.

“Disasters are becoming more frequent, more intense and occasionally unusual — as the two recent cyclones in Mozambique have shown,” said Dr Vayalil, who is head of VPS Healthcare.

“A significant amount of funds are raised in the immediate aftermath of any disaster.

“Social media platforms have accelerated the volume and velocity of these fund-raising efforts.

“These acts of generosity tend to be short-lived, but disaster recovery takes months if not years of work.”

As head of one of the region’s largest medical networks, Dr Vayalil has first-hand experience with the challenges donors face.

He was heavily involved in the emergency response to natural disasters in India, including floods in Jammu, Kashmir and Kerala, and is now co-ordinating a recovery mission in Mozambique after it was hit with devastating cyclones in March and April.

Issues are contributing to a crisis in confidence and trust for businesses, government and even NGOs.

Dr Shamsheer Vayalil

Despite the generosity and willingness of private firms to step in to help, many often face walls of bureaucracy and logistical challenges preventing aid delivery.

As a result, aid donated by well-meaning NGOs can be wasted, often left to rot in abandoned makeshift depots with no mode of transport into disaster zones.

“People do not necessarily know how or how much of their money actually reaches the people who need it most,” said Dr Vayalil, who is also vice chairman and managing director of investment company Amanat.

“Organisations like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, agencies of the UN system and MSF do a great job, but the power and reach of social media has also heightened the risks that include bias, bureaucracy and an increased distrust of many traditional institutions.

“It has become almost standard operating procedure for fraudulent organisations foundations and so-called disaster recovery companies to pop up right after any disaster.

VPS Healthcare is collaborating on a small project with All Hands and Hearts (AHAH), a ‘volunteer-powered disaster relief organisation’ for a project in central Nepal. The group's chairman Dr Shamsheer Vayalil said disaster response must change to help the most vulnerable. Courtesy: VPS 
VPS Healthcare is collaborating on a small project with All Hands and Hearts (AHAH), a ‘volunteer-powered disaster relief organisation’ for a project in central Nepal. The group's chairman Dr Shamsheer Vayalil said disaster response must change to help the most vulnerable. Courtesy: VPS 

“All these issues are contributing to a crisis in confidence and trust for businesses, government and even NGOs.”

In March, VPS Healthcare responded to the Mozambique cyclone with emergency medical supplies and malaria and typhoid treatment for 10,000 people.

A mobile care unit was also due to be flown in to the worst hit areas. The group is still working to deliver facilities on the ground.

Similar logistical problems were encountered during the Kerala floods of 2018.

Dr Vayalil described an often confusing situation in the wake of a natural disaster, with a lack of communication making it challenging to deliver aid effectively.

Millions of dirhams were raised in the UAE to aid the relief effort following the devastating Kerala floods.

Dr Vayalil was one of four Indian businessmen to raise about Dh40 million.

Other major donors were Yusuff Ali M A, founder of Lulu supermarkets, B R Shetty, founder of NMC Healthcare and Sunny Varkey, the founder of school operator Gems Education.

Roads linking the state’s main airport of Kochi were severely damaged, making accessibility almost impossible to areas where close to a million people were living in emergency camps.

“It is not unusual for dozens, if not hundreds of healthcare professionals, to volunteer to help victims in the aftermath of a disaster,” said Dr Vayalil.

"Communication and logistics challenges can sometimes make these efforts less effective.

“Our approach has been collaborative from the start and we only offer only what we know best — healthcare.”

VPS is collaborating on a small project with All Hands and Hearts, a ‘volunteer-powered disaster relief organisation’ for a project in central Nepal.

Founded by Czech supermodel and philanthropist, Petra Němcová, AHAH is rebuilding a school destroyed in an earthquake in 2015.

Teams of medical advisers from VPS Healthcare’s Medeor Hospital in Al Ain were sent to the site to help oversee the health and well-being of the team.

“This resulted in fewer volunteer sick days and a greater degree of confidence among the volunteers,” said Dr Vayalil.

“This pilot programme is being used to establish a template for prevention and management plans that can be used throughout their relief efforts.

“Additional teams of medical advisers will join the volunteers when the work resumes later this year.”

Updated: May 18, 2019 04:57 PM

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