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Resilience in an increasingly globalised world

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This morning I read this article about pharmaceuticals and other medical products. It turns out that many essential medicines and devices have complex supply chains that depend on products produced in just a handful of locations. The supply of some of these products is vulnerable to natural disasters, civil unrest and other crises. Countries like Australia, which don’t have large pharma industries are quite vulnerable to these interruptions with potential consequences on the health of many people with chronic and acute conditions.

When talking about critical infrastructure and community lifelines most emergency managers tend to think of things like transport, electricity and water supplies in the disaster affected area. When consequences beyond the disaster affected area are considered it’s normally things like interruption to major transport routes (and this often isn’t examined in any strategic way).

But in an increasingly globalised world many products and services essential the health of Australians and the functioning of our economy are sourced from overseas. Even products that are produced in Australia usually are dependent on complex supply chains. Even a product as simple as a cigarette lighter has over 80% of global production located in just one town in China.

Aside from research and calls to action, there seems to be little coordinated effort particularly in countries like Australia to address these risks.

Given the consequences of these risks, not just on business activity but on essential products for societal function, should it be left to individual businesses to identify and address supply chain risks. Some government sectors are taking some action (such as through the National Medicines Policy), but given the inter-sector dependence of these supply chains should it just be left to individual government departments.

What are the role for emergency managers, both local, state and federal in minimising risks to Australia from disruptions to global supply chains for things like pharmaceuticals? How should we partner with industry (including offshore industry)? Are existing critical infrastructure networks an adequate model (there are some questions as to whether these have achieved broad and genuine engagement from industry)? And what is our role through global institutions such as the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation?

Comments are welcome.


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