Logistics for Humanitarian Action

During a crisis or emergency, affected people would need different kinds of logistics. However, due to many constraints, delivery logistics to the affected people and area often is problematic. For example, the problem might arise when different agencies work together in the same area, when there is disturbance for access to the affected area, and when there is a lack of logistics to be delivered.

Despite all these challenges, logistics in humanitarian context is needed for saving lives and alleviate suffering of affected people. Therefor, facing this issue, logistics in humanitarian action aims to deliver logistics to the most needed through various strategies and overcoming different constraints. The question is how to conduct logistics for humanitarian in an emergency and crisis?

For conducting humanitarian logistics, I was fortunate to join a week course on this issue in Subang, Malaysia in the late of 2019. This is the headquarter of UNHRD (United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot) for Asia Pacific. In this facility, facilitators from UNHRD and WFP (World Food Programme) share their knowledge and expertise in conducting humanitarian logistics.

Providing logistics for affected people after crisis or emergency shares the similarity with distributing logistics in business sector.  However, if business aims to obtain profit, in humanitarian context the objective is for saving lives.

Moreover, in humantarian action, the implementing organisation should maintain accountability to the donor and fulfilling the needs of beneficiaries. Therefore, in such circumstance, time and reporting mechanism are important.

In logistics for humanitarian, we recognise the term of humanitarian supply chain. This chain is connecting between the procurement of logistics to its distribution to the beneficiaries. There are several elements which form the chain, namely planning, sourcing, logistics, information, efficiency, effectiveness, and optimisation.

Planning is important for preparing logistics to the beneficiaries. This element requires information regarding the number of beneficiaries, their location, time to deliver, and the mechanism to deliver logistics.

Sourcing is related to the process for obtaining logistics. It considers questions, such as where can we get logistics, whether the procurement is through local, regional, or international supplies. Key information which should be considered is the time to deliver, mechanism to deliver, and who is responsible for the delivery of logistics. Humanitarian actors should find the best solution and benefit when conducting the procurement process.

Logistics is related to activities from storage, transport, and distribution after the sourcing. Here, things that need to be considered are the storage location, transportation mechanisms, staging areas, and distribution mechanisms.

Efficiency is the process in the logistics supply chain which is compared to the time. It focuses on the provision of logistics in time and does not really consider the cost. Efficiency usually is being chosen during the emergency phase for providing logistics to beneficiaries as soon as possible.

Effectiveness is the provision process of logistics compared to the cost. Humanitarian actors should consider the best and shortest way for delivering logistics. Usually, the effectiveness is chosen after emergency phase.

Optimisation is the mechanisms for procuring logistics which is balancing between efficiency and effectiveness, or time and cost. Optimisation can be done by reviewing the whole process of supply chain, such as finding gaps, obstacles, and challenges.

After understanding the supply chain of logistics, hopefully humanitarian actors can have a better  response for the affected communities to save lives and alleviate suffering.


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