Partnership working crucial when working in conflict and disaster zones

13 Dec 2022

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The final event in FIDIC’s 2022 webinar series took place on 13 December and looked at some of the key lessons learned in mitigating the impact of working in disaster and conflict zones.

The webinar, Safety, sanctions and solutions - Mitigating the impact of working in disaster and conflict zones, was organised by FIDIC’s international financial institutions committee and the line-up of representatives from funding organisations and governments shared their experiences of dealing with projects affected by disaster and conflict.

Speakers at the webinar, which was chaired by FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker, included Manish Kothari, FIDIC board member and president and CEO of Sheladia Associates, Etel Bereslawski procurement manager for the Middle East and North Africa region at the World Bank, Mohamed Aslam
minister of national planning at the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure for the Government of Maldives, Simon Chirwa, procurement manager for Europe and Central Asia region at the World Bank and Thamer Al-Failakawi, regional manager at the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development.

Welcoming attendees to the webinar, FIDIC board member Manish Kothari said: “As we know, the IFIs and the multilateral development banks play a critical role in delivering projects in areas that are affected by conflicts and disasters around the world and in the reconstruction of areas that are in post conflict and disaster situations. Unfortunately, given the increasing uncertainly we face in the world, these challenges are becoming more common and our industry is often at the sharp end of grappling with them.”

Kicking off the webinar with a keynote introduction, Etel Bereslawski, procurement manager for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank said that multilateral development banks play a key role in delivering projects in areas affected by conflicts and disasters and in the reconstruction of areas that are in post conflict and disaster situations. “The construction industry and consulting firms play a key role in helping the bank to achieve its aims and we value that partnership,” she said.

Bereslawski highlighted the documentation and guidance material that the bank provides to help stakeholders when working on funded projects and also focused on the MENA region and how the bank operated in that zone. Bereslawski also praised FIDIC contracts for their flexibility and their inclusion of dispute boards and she encouraged her audience to use them. She also recognised that there would be national differences in the way that contracts were interpreted and this needed to be taken on board.

Mohamed Aslam, minister of national planning at the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure for the Government of Maldives, said it was important to understand the far-reaching effects of world events in all areas of the world and it was important not to focus on specific conflict zones. Aslam mentioned the 2004 tsunami in the Maldives and the key role played by international agencies in responding to that disaster as an example of a coordinated and unified response. Aslam said that it would be helpful to “redefine what we mean when we talk about disaster and conflict events” as not all were the same and different issues applied when dealing with them.

Aslam also said that it was important to understand the power structures in play on contracts, with governments having a significant amount of power and influence. There was a need for greater dialogue around contractual issues between all parties to find an equitable way forward. Manish Kothari agreed, asking whether the banks had considered having open-ended ‘disaster contracts’ that would help governments to mobilise required expertise fast and in time. He also thought that there was a role for FIDIC in helping to facilitate the conversation and develop a collaborative and inclusive contract.

Simon Chirwa, procurement manager for Europe and Central Asia region at the World Bank, talked about the conflict in Ukraine and the extreme difficulties of working in the region. “It requires speed, agility and the need to ensure integrity in the management of contracts,” he said. Chirwa said that although the FIDIC contracts provided a good basis for working on projects, they were not necessarily suitable when working in a much more flexible way in conflict zones. He highlighted the role of dispute boards, which he said needed to be more clearly understood in the industry. “They are very important for the proper working of the contracts,” he said.

Thamer Al-Failakawi, regional manager at the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development, said that the Kuwait Fund worked in close partnership with other regional organisations and highlighted that partnership working was critical in moving fast and addressing issues on the ground. “We really value the role of consultants as we have no offices on the ground – they are our eyes on site,” he said. Al-Failakawi also stressed the important role played by the fund’s partnerships with UN, which he said were crucial.

Summing up the event, all the panellists stressed the need for more dialogue and partnership in order to build trust and fairness to provide a foundation to discuss the complex issues raised when working in disaster and conflict zones. FIDIC board member Manish Kothari said that FIDIC would continue to facilitate dialogue and partnerships with purpose to ensure that the industry was able to come together to share views and best practice on these crucial issues for the world.

FIDIC organises a comprehensive series of webinars each year on topical issues of interest to global engineering, construction and infrastructure professionals. To find out more details about the latest webinars and to book a free place visit https://events.fidic.org/

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