Weil joins forces with UN to help on unique disaster relief scheme

Weil Gotshal & Manges

has acted as pro bono counsel in an initiative by the United Nations World Food Programme to create the world’s first weather-derivative transaction for humanitarian emergencies.

As part of its ongoing efforts to find ways to finance natural disaster aid more quickly and efficiently, the UN World Food Programme has signed a deal with French insurer Axa Re to create a way of transferring humanitarian risk to the financial markets.

The contract provides $7.1m (£4m) in contingency funding in the event of extreme drought during Ethiopia’s 2006 agricultural season. If triggered, the funds will be used to protect people against the consequences of this natural disaster.

Weil structured finance and derivatives partner Conrad Bahlke, assisted by associate Katayoun Soudmand, worked closely with executives from the UN’s World Food Programme and the World Bank Commodity Risk Management Group to help structure the novel deal.

“This is an incredible application of sophisticated financial and legal concepts, which have the potential to do so much good for so many,” explains Bahlke.

Much as a farmer might use weather derivatives to hedge against a poor harvest caused by a period of unexpected frost, the derivative is based upon a calibrated index of rainfall data gathered from 26 weather stations across Ethiopia.

Payment in this experimental pilot project will be triggered if data gathered over a period from March to October 2006 indicates that rainfall has been significantly below historic averages, pointing to the likelihood of widespread crop failure.

While the pilot transaction only provides a small amount of contingency funding, the model has been designed on the basis of the potential losses that 17 million poor Ethiopian farmers risk should an extreme drought arise.

The London team advising on the initiative includes partner James Cole assisted by associate Patricia North, who advised on matters of English law relating to weather derivatives, and associate Justin Michaelson, who advised on related arbitration issues.