When Trade Saves Lives: Humanitarian Logistics

When Trade Saves Lives: Humanitarian Logistics

By Ashok Raman, 10 November 2023

Natural disasters and conflicts trigger humanitarian responses across the globe, and this requires extensive coordination especially for logistics.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the global emergency response to save lives and protect people in humanitarian crises. The current international humanitarian coordination system was set by General Assembly resolution 46/182 in December 1991. In 2005, a major reform of humanitarian coordination introduced several new elements to enhance predictability, accountability, and partnership.

During the reform, the Cluster Approach was one of the new elements introduced. Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action.

Infobyte: Global Humanitarian & Emergency Relief Coordination

The Logistics Cluster plays a crucial role in coordinating logistics operations during humanitarian crises. The mandate of the Cluster includes:

  • Logistics coordination, which ensures that humanitarian agencies, including NGOs, UN agencies, and government entities avoid duplication of efforts and ensure gaps are filled, to increase the efficiency and predictability of the response.
  • Information Management, where information on logistics capacity, infrastructure, access, and supply chain bottlenecks is collected, analysed, and shared. This helps to identify gaps and optimise response efforts, enabling timely and informed decision-making.
  • Transport coordination where gaps are identified, including air, sea, and road transport to facilitate the movement of humanitarian goods.
  • Warehouse and storage management where gaps are identified, serving as transit or hub storage either at central locations or remote locations without infrastructure, to ensure humanitarian relief items are able to reach those in need.
  • Capacity-building and preparedness activities to strengthen the logistics skills, knowledge, and readiness of humanitarian responders.

Four of the largest global logistics and transportation companies have joined hands to form the Logistics Emergency Team (LET), which provide pro bono support to the Logistics Cluster led by United Nations World Food Programme. Operationally the LET is a team of representatives from participant companies composed of logistics experts.

Infobyte: Logistics Emergency Team (LET) Services

This is highly required, as studies have shown that 60% to 80% of expenses towards humanitarian aid is the supply chain. Whereas the LET was initially established to respond to natural disasters, the Logistics Cluster is required to respond to any large-scale humanitarian emergency. The LET has been in action since 2005 and has responded to over 20 natural disasters since its inception.

It’s not just the relief items that people need in a humanitarian emergency that costs the most. It’s the supply chain as well. Overall, 60- 80% of humanitarian aid expenses go toward find the solution to the question “what do people need, and how to we get it to those who need it most?”

LET also sprang into action during the covid-19 pandemic which disrupted supply chains significantly as countries shut down, leading to flight disruptions, high prices of humanitarian goods and scarcity. This created operational challenges for humanitarian organizations in their response to the pandemic and other crises.

Some key examples where LET companies were highly active include:

  • UPS delivered over 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine in more than 100 countries, and The UPS Foundation engaged with UNICEF, GAVI (Vaccine Alliance), and health ministries to bring more that 50 million doses to low- and middle-income countries with lagging vaccination rates across 5 continents. UPS also donated technical assistance, portable vaccine freezers and carrying cases, adding in-country storage capacity for an additional 30 million vaccines. UPS  healthcare experts were also deployed in Africa and Asia (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia) to conduct trainings on ultra-cold vaccine management and expertise on vaccine distribution.
  • Agility bilaterally engaged with other NGO’s and provided supply chain information related to vaccine distribution.
  • Maersk led a multi-carrier discussion, involving Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and CMA, on standard processes, prioritization management, and MSC direct booking access. Maersk additionally deployed reefer containers and mobile generators in South Sudan, where they are being used as selfsufficient storage units for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • DP World provided 50,000 square meters of storage space in Dubai from which, distribution was organized to other countries in the region. DP World and the UNICEF Supply division also held a workshop on support in future pandemic emergencies.

There’s no doubt that humanitarian aid is going to be more and more important going forward. As of June 2023, it is estimated that more that more than 360 million people are in need of humanitarian response across 69 countries, requiring approximately US$ 56 billion in aid funding. Currently there are 7 countries where more than 15 million of its population are in need of a humanitarian response. These include Ethiopia, Afghanistan, DR of Congo, Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine. These 7  countries require US$ 23 bn of the US$ 56 billion. Swift and coordinated responses by logistics operators and humanitarian agencies are vital elements to building a safe and responsive world.

To read more about the power of sustainable trade in the race to net zero – read the full report here.

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