Companies bolster relief effort
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LONDON, England -- Companies from around the world have been at the forefront of the aid effort that has followed last month's tsunami disaster.
Governments and aid organizations have pledged more than $5 billion, Reuters reported, towards re-building the shattered coastlines and communities of the Indian Ocean.
A significant part of that effort will be funded by corporate donations.
"This is the biggest movement of corporate generosity we have ever had for an emergency call in terms of the amounts given," Pascal Freneaux of Medecins Sans Frontieres told Reuters.
Total donations in the U.S. have already reached $180 million, including $10 million contributions from drugs company Pfizer and Coca-Cola.
Elsewhere Deutsche Bank have contributed $13.23 million and Standard Chartered Bank said they would give two-thirds of their profits in Asia and a minimum $5 million to tsunami-related relief.
"Just about every company of every size is doing something," Curt Weeden of Contributions Academy, which trains managers of corporate philanthropy programs, told The Associated Press. "It really has engendered an amazing kind of response."
Many companies, with well-established international logistical capacities, are also uniquely placed to contribute directly in getting food, drinking water and medical care to the survivors of the catastrophe and in re-establishing sanitation and communication.
Among some of the companies already playing a role in the aid effort are Pfizer and fellow pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which have donated healthcare supplies and antibiotics; Vodafone and France Telecom, which are helping to provide emergency communications in affected areas; and logistics companies TNT and DHL, which are providing trucks, planes and warehouses to support the relief effort.
German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp, which has plants in both India and Thailand, has also said it will rebuild a village and set up an orphanage in each country.
"With these concrete, sustained projects we want to contribute to the reconstruction process. As well as providing humanitarian aid, we wish to express our closeness with these countries in which we have been active for many years," said ThyssenKrupp chairman Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Schulz."
Part of the corporate contribution has been handled by the Disaster Resource Network (DRN), which was set up by the World Economic Forum in 2002 to "leverage the resources of the international business community to mitigate the human suffering associated with disasters."
In recent days the DRN has coordinated the arrival and distribution of aid supplies at airports in Sri Lanka and Bandar Aceh.
DRN executive director Bob Bellhouse said the organization also hoped to organize corporate efforts to assist in the economic regeneration of the affected regions.
"We will convene international business leaders to look beyond emergency life saving activities to strategies for rebuilding livelihoods," said Bellhouse.
"The business sector has a key role to play in the region's economic recovery process and in developing collaborations with governments and NGOs to minimize the human and economic costs of future disasters."
But for most companies the most effective way to contribute is simply to give cash. In the aftermath of the tsunami there were reports that so much unsolicited aid was arriving that local airstrips were struggling to handle the traffic.
The American Red Cross also warned that donations of resources or aid products could actually hinder operations by using up "limited resources to process or facilitate the donations, (and) prohibitive transportation and storage logistics and expenses."
World Health Organization representative William Aldis told Reuters that the U.N agency would only accept drugs that had been labeled in the language of the recipient country and that were within six months of their expiry date.
Aldis said that many of the drugs contributed to the humanitarian effort in Kosovo had proved to be old and unusable.
"Sometimes the problem in disasters is that not requested and unneeded drugs are coming in," said Aldis, who suggested that some companies used charitable donations as a form of tax relief.
"In Kosovo, millions of dollars were spent to dispose of drugs by incinerating them."
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contributed to this report.