Our humanitarian work

An incubator for humanitarian action

Martin Luther King once famously stated that life’s most persistent and urgent question is,“What are you doing for others?"

For staff at T+T, this is more than a rhetorical question. It’s a call to action that resonates deeply and is aligned with our values. It goes some way to explain our long-term active support in the humanitarian sector, further enabled by the company’s employee-ownership model which empowers staff who genuinely want to make a difference in the world.

The upshot is a series of humanitarian initiatives that have helped a growing number of vulnerable communities affected by crises – in New Zealand, across neighbouring Pacific nations and around the world.

Genesis of a sense of responsibility

Borne out of a desire to leave a meaningful and positive impact where it counts most, T+T has been leading by example; ever since its 1970s foray into aid funded projects in Southeast Asia. At that time, Nick Rogers, now one of New Zealand’s leading natural disaster specialist joined the company on the strength of it being at the forefront of environmental protection and with a deepening expertise in environmental impact assessment expertise. “It meant we got involved in water projects,” Nick says. “This allowed us to look to NGOs for support and for NGOs to support.” It led T+T to Water for Survival and gave birth to a long-term association with Oxfam which continues with generous assistance and mentoring programmes for Oxfam staff.

Since then, T+T disaster specialists have often been found at the front line of major disasters providing crucial assistance to affected communities in the aftermath of landslides, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis or geothermal eruptions. Locally this included award-winning work and critical support following the 2011 Christchurch and 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes.

Geotechnical discipline manager, John Leeves played a key role during those earthquake responses and felt a sense of responsibility to take the learnings further afield. He’s a driving force within the company’s humanitarian work and pro-bono initiatives which mean the world to him. “We can contribute to society in all sorts of ways but it’s particularly special to help in the humanitarian area,” he said. “We are well placed to make a difference with our expertise and we have developed some good relationships.”

He collaborates with NGOs, NDMOs and other humanitarian groups who rely on private sector input with T+T focusing on the areas of response, recovery and preparedness.

John notes that the UN has identified increased private sector involvement as one of its humanitarian goals at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, “We’re doing our bit to help address the imbalance.” This goes beyond ‘work on the ground’ and includes collaboration with the Centre for International Development to foster more humanitarian/private relationships.

Making a profound impact to the lives of vulnerable communities

Following the Christchurch earthquake, John was eager to share T+T’s world-leading expertise, which had been fine-tuned during the Christchurch earthquake, with other Pacific nations in need. This culminated in pro-bono humanitarian relief efforts in the wake of Cyclone Winston in Fiji (see case study below), Cyclone Gita in Tonga and the 2018 landslides and Tsunami in Sulawesi. T+T’s widely acclaimed rapid disaster mapping made a significant contribution to help triage the international humanitarian response.

Our footprint in the humanitarian sector is evidence of an authentic culture of caring and personal empowerment which fosters purposeful staff initiatives. One such initiative is helping to solve the immense logistical problems of getting post-disaster humanitarian aid to affected communities scattered across Pacific Islands – quickly and efficiently. A bespoke software solution (a web portal for various aid agencies and organisations) provides detailed information about existing emergency supplies that are stored at various locations. Most importantly, it goes a long way to enhance the resilience of those vulnerable communities.

Recent work includes the development and implementation of Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems across the Pacific. It draws heavily on world-leading expertise of T+T’s international disaster risk reduction and hazard modelling expert, Dr. Bapon Fakhruddin, who regularly advises the United Nations on natural hazards and climate change. Having grown up in flood-prone Bangladesh and personally experience devastating disasters that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands has shaped his career. His track record comprises multi-hazard warning systems for 35countries including the Tsunami Warning System for Indian Ocean countries following the disastrous 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, Bapon is a strong proponent of community engagement which he considers a critical success factor for early warning systems.

Other relevant projects include bespoke software development services for the Australasian Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations (CAN DO) and climate change adaption/disaster risk reduction services for World Bank & ADB.

Expertise

  • Rapid Mapping for Disaster Response
  • Climate Change and Disaster Risk and Hazard assessments
  • Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems development
  • Web, desktop and mobile bespoke software development for the Humanitarian Sector

Case Studies

Rohingya Refugee Crisis - Myanmar

Following ongoing extreme violence and discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, nearly one million refugees fled across the border into Bangladesh between late 2017 and early 2018. Unfortunately, the rapid temporary resettlement of the displaced Rohingya in makeshift refugee camps had a dramatic impact on the land which extends into the Teknef Game Reserve. It had been largely stripped of vegetation and was crudely terraced to provide platforms for shelters. These stopgap measures exposed soils highly susceptible to landslides. As a result of these rapid changes across such a vast land area, UNHCR sought disaster risk reduction expertise from Tonkin+Taylor International (T+TI) to review the landslide risk and the shelters that were most exposed to floodwaters. In addition to risk mapping, T+TI collaborated with Oxfam to provide practical and affordable solutions, particularly in terms of stormwater control. T+TI’s involvement, which is largely funded by the company, will continue with further implementation helping residents to sustainably improve the camp.

United Nations – Logistics system for disaster stock readiness

Following T+T’s rapid disaster mapping of Fiji in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, it became apparent that aid efforts were hampered by logistical problems associated with getting emergency supplies to affected communities quickly and efficiently. To deal with this barrier, T+T supported the UN World Food programme initiative to develop a bespoke web based software platform that identifies the location and quantities of prepositioned stock for disaster readiness in the Pacific. The solution is tailored towards Aid Agencies and NGOs to help them manage and update their stock that’s held across various warehouses. Fundamentally, the system provides an inventory of stock in all locations identifying which items are available where - from sanitation kits, to tarpaulins and water purification tablets. It promotes collaboration between different agencies to eliminate duplication of items or gaps, and allows effective re-stocking of supplies as appropriate. It gives agencies a big-picture view and allows them to effectively prepare for disaster. As or when it happens, they see “at a click” where specific supplies are available so they can source and deliver them quickly and efficiently to those affected.

The system has been implemented in the Pacific and promises to be deployed further afield.

Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations (CAN DO)

Eight church denominations in the Pacific have joined forces (CAN DO) so they can collectively better respond to future disasters in the Pacific. To enhance their efficiency and effectiveness, T+T has developed a bespoke web based software platform and offline mobile Android/iOS application that manages church and government (NDMO) owned evacuation centres. In the Pacific, these are often churches and church-owned school buildings. The platform identifies the location of the evacuation centre and records attributes of the facility such as the number of people it can accommodate in a disaster etc. This system will enable the church agency network to be better prepared and able to respond to future disasters.

Rapid Disaster Mapping - Tropical Cyclone Winston (Fiji)

Following the category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston that struck Fiji in February 2017 T+T offered its pro bono expertise to conduct a Rapid Mapping and Digital Damage Assessment for UNOCHA and the wider humanitarian community. Within three days of the cyclone event, T+T experts had developed a web portal with key information such as damage maps, road closures and aerial imagery, all of which was continually updated producing increasingly detailed information. These unique aerial maps were readily accessible by NGO’s, UNOCHA and other relief agencies. They could expedite and prioritise the delivery of aid to the communities that were left devastated by the event. This ACENZ award-winning work is considered a game changer by providing a veritable road map for disaster relief.

Rapid disaster mapping is now recognised as the gold standard for the collation, analysis and dissemination of data following natural disasters. It has since been deployed to map land damage following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake and, more recently, in Tonga, following Cyclone Gita.