Humanitarian Logistics relates to aid after natural and man-made disasters as well as emergencies caused by war. It operates in a destabalized context that is “clearly unpredictable, turbulent and requiring flexibility” (Oloruntoba and Gray, 2006). This is a highly fragmented area and statistics are complicated by the official and voluntary nature of aid and assistance but this compilation of UN statistics gives an idea of scope. In 2007 there were 34 armed conflicts worldwide and 414 natural disasters affecting 211 million people. There were an estimated 16,000 deaths and, $75 billion was paid out in damages. The World Food Program estimated that 90 million people require food aid with 54 million in Africa alone.[1]

Whilst industrial supply chains in a fully functioning market economy are measured on cost and speed to market; humanitarian logistics respond to different measures that will shift as the effort progresses. Essentially, the market looks for value and the humanitarian effort prioritizes values such as human life. The immediate reaction is measured on sheer speed and then, as needs progress, to longer term sustainability issues like creating the framework for business and self sufficiency to prosper. This effort is fraught with difficulties over mandate as well as efficiency. Humanitarian aid must be characterized by humanity, impartiality and neutrality – all of which have been enshrined in the Geneva Convention (1864) and, the Red Cross Movement (1875) and, Humanitarian aid has to operate on a local; national and international level to make the right impact. This is a complicated agenda which makes the route forward post disaster equally problematic. There is a gap in the logistics lexicon here.

Natural disasters aside, we have those places ravaged by war. Nearly one half of all low-income countries have experienced major conflict since 1980. Iraq, with its oil revenues, is a different case in terms of relative prosperity but the logistics agenda has been the same. I spoke with Iraqis and Kurds now living in the UK who described how Iraq and the Kurdish Region has been affected by the circumstances surrounding regime change. In particular, the story of infrastructure and logistics; without which no regime can build sustainable growth. One logistics professional now living in the UK sums up: “First, we had the war that wrecked the roads and bridges – some by the coalition forces and others by Sadam’s forces. This is normal in war. Then, the military built up the roads and improved connectivity just to move around. In came Humanitarian teams to ensure the supply of essential food and medical supplies reached the people in need. Now, we are in a transitional stage that should see the economy stabalise. The situation is being transformed and trade that had migrated to Jordan is returning as infrastructure and logistics are being built up and confidence is growing.” This logistics journey does not mean “fast forward” to a fully functioning market economy with state-of-the-art supply chains.

This is where transformational logistics comes in to act as a catalyst for the hybrid solutions that the market can provide and a fragile economy can adapt to.

The missing link

Figure 10

Despite the signficance of the Humanitarian effort, Jahre and Jensen (2009) are not alone in concluding that “the logistics function is under-recognised, under utilized and under resourced”. This is most pronounced when we consider the relative funding of specific disasters.

Analysis of Aid per person affected for Earthquakes and Tsunami 2000 to 2010

Haiti Peru SE Asia Iran Tsunami
People affected (million) 3,000 480 5,128 268 2,322
Funding ($ million) $1,100 $200 $1,000 $100 $6,200
Aid per person ($) $367 $417 $195 $373 $2,670

Figure 11 Source: Compiled from UN country report statistics

As the above figures demonstrate, the funding for each disaster is highly volatile and most likely to respond to level of media frenzy rather than any sense of proportionate need. For example, the Namibian floods caused close to $10 million worth of damage but managed to raise no more than £2.2 million or $6 per person affected. The fact is that Humanitarian needs persist long after the initial rush of giving and funding needs to be continue or, other strategies need to be in place to reduce country aid dependency and engineer sustainable growth.

The literature on Aid and the plight of those in poverty is extensive with Paul Collier (2007) identifying four “traps” to blame for the misery of “the bottom billion”. Conflict, natural resources (too many or too few), being landlocked with bad neighbours and bad governance are the traps that must be removed to move countries out of poverty. Hernando De Soto (2000) argues that the reason is “dead capital”, not the absence of capital, that is responsible for poverty in the third world countries. There are several aid optimists led by Jeffrey Sachs (2005) emphasising how aid can make a difference and aid pessimists such as William Easterly (2006) and more recently Dambisa Moyo (2009) who focus a lack of value for money and a dependency culture. Here, we argue that there is too much of a gap between aid and any chance of a sustainable solution. We argue that Transformational Logistics can be developed to fulfill that transitional role between the Humanitarian effort and the objective of self sustaining solutions. In fact, Transformational Logistics shares the same flows (physical; information and cash) as any Humanitarian Logistics effort and more can be done to develop this logic.

Goals per flow: [2]

Flow: Humanitarian goals: Transformational goals:


  • Temporary and interim structures to provide essential connectivity
  • Deal with constraints
  • Deliver / synchronise infrastructure and connectivity capacity sufficient to establish and maintain the industrial sectors that deliver sustainable growth.
  • Deal with constraints.
  • Ensure adaptability & affordability for local context
Material (Boxes)
  • Cost, speed and quality
  • Develop cost effective and responsive solutions
  • Promote simply modal solutions. E.g. Manual handling.
  • Develop second hand supply chains
Information (Bytes)
  • Limited access then overflow
  • Relevance: Tool for coordination
  • Promote appropriate (not always state-of-the-art) technologies.
  • Develop mobile solutions
  • Build rural service & connectivity hubs
  • Develop distance mentoring to harness global experience.


  • Liquidity: going from soft bids to cash
  • Value for money and impact based solutions.
  • Establish contingency plans for informal marketplace.
People (Bodies)
  • Getting staff to the field
  • Promote functional literacy & gender equality programmes
  • Use simulator and other training technologies for reach and scale up
  • Focus performance improvement & impact
  • Establish & maintain global standards and career paths
Knowledge (Brains)
  • Making skills available to create solutions
  • Upskill and future proof the local workforce to reduce dependency and deliver sustainable growth.
  • Promote vocational as well as academic qualifications.

Figure 12

As the above table highlights, the Humanitarian effort deals with immediate needs whilst the Transformational focus creates the framework to reduce dependency and sustainable growth in the longer term. This territory has been called the third or rehabilitation phase of a Humanitarian effort. It is something highlighted in not dissimilar terms by a McKinsey Report (2000) commissioned by the IFRC that makes the distinction between ongoing development and disaster management and emergencies[3] and, in both cases, coordination is a major element of all of the above goals and, as has been amply illustrated in Haiti, the need to tackle constraints is a major concern.

Initially, constraints emerge from the dislocation to infrastructure and utilities caused by the calamity. Then, there is the constraint of sending goods that may not be needed. As Bill Clinton emphasised in an inteview with the BBC in Haiti, the need is for money not goods: “it will just clog up the place even more”. The governments of the tsunami are still sorting out the issue of things that were sent that did not meet the need. We have to be sure that what we send doesn’t become a constraint. This is the clue to the solution. Eliyahu Goldratt wrote a book called the Goal (1984).

The Goal is all about the theory of constraints and, as he puts it succinctly: “constraints are not acts of God. There is much that we can do about them”. In brief summary, TOC is all about the constraints of:  Policy and the Business Model; Resources and the physical process and, material. Read the Goal and 90% of constraints are to do with rules or red tape that is put there either for reasons that do not meet the purpose of the entire systemor, in the Case of Haiti, the livelihoods of 9 million people.

These constraints may stretch so far into the future that even more radical approaches are needed to transform the local economy and achieve sustainability. Take New Orleans where, after the devastation of the floods questions are being asked about whether there is any point in rebuilding the city or, would it be better to let it re-emerge as a town on a much smaller scale with much of its functional areas being re-located to more secure areas. This takes the transformational agenda into the Policy and governance area. Is there a case to start from scratch and learn from, say, Brasilia; Ankara or Portland Oregan – where the downtown port was created as a Bond to sell to Real Estate and generate the money for a brand new Port further up the coast.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in a similar rupture of supply chains as central control collapsed and, the underground filled the void. It took several years to transform the supply chains in all product categories as stores dealt with initial shortages followed by unprecedented access to greater choice and variety. Suddenly, kiosks and supermarkets offered a range that had not been dreamed of. There is no quick fix to establish a fully functioning and modern logistics framework and, there must be some way to accommodate the informal economy that plays such a vital role in this transitional period and well into the long term.

Transformational Logistics can play a role in opening up the possibilities post emergencies. It is a fertile area and one in which the business world – not Humanitarian agencies alone – can play a more prominent role. This could be the catalyst for CSR beyond the individual firm. After all, to use Martin Christophers phrase – supply chains compete not companies. This means that supply chains – inclusive value streams would be better – are the real building blocks and, these should be built around sectors. This is the way to build up markets and trading connectivity and this is the true catalyst fro any successful third phase of a Humanitarian effort.

[1] UN International Aid Statistics (2007)


[2] Table adapted from Tomasini & Wassenhove (2009) p 48.

[3] Quoted, Tomasini & Wassenhove (2009) p 52.