There is more to any Humanitarian disaster than an immediate RESPONSE. It is not earthquakes that kill people – it is buildings; and so, many countries make themselves more RESILIENT to disaster ensuring that building standards can withstand geo-meterological threats and, that logistics procedures are in place to deal with worst case scenarios and facilitate rapid response.

Resilience is important. Emergencies have been growing in scale. According to the Munich Reinsurance group, the real annual economic losses have been growing steadily, averaging US$75.5 billion in the 1960’s, US$138.4 billion in the 1970’s, US$213.9 billion in the 1980’s and in 2004, the World Bank estimated that the annual global economic costs related to disaster events average $629 billion per year, five times that of 20 years ago.

This is about local impact. There is something else; global impact – because of the nature of integrated, and stretched, global supply chains. This takes us to the third dimension or phase of any Humanitarian response – RECONSTRUCTION.

A wider impact than this


Today, the world is facing natural disasters on an unprecedented scale: more than 255 million people were affected by natural disasters globally each year, on average, between 1994 and 2003. During the same period, these disasters claimed an average of 58,000 lives annually,with a range of 10,000 to 123,000 casualties. In the year 2003, 1 in 25 people worldwide was affected by natural disaster. Then, the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004; Hurricane Katrina 2005 in the USA; the Yogyakarta Earthquake in Indonesia in 2006; Sichuan earthquake in China in 2007; Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, the Haiti Earthquake; Chilean Earthquake and Pakistan in 2010. Now, the floods in Queensland. This one is different – where many disasters have a local impact, this one is having a far reaching global significance – a “butterfly effect” that should help to transform global thinking on commodity based logistics and supply chains in a fundamental way. That does not mean that it will …

Rising tides don't raise all boats


The worst floods in Pakistan’s history have affected at least 14 million people. Some 1,500 people have been killed to date; 1.4 million acres of crop land has been flooded; 10,000 cows killed; roads and power supply networks have been shattered and, food will be needed for 1.8 million people for the next three months at least. There is a serious threat from water-born diseases and cholera in particular. Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need. Sadly, major disasters like this and others such as in Niger occur frequently in the developing world where vulnerability is high, resources are limited and, all too often build back does not mean build back better. In other words, infrastructure and buildings are re-built piecemeal, cheaply and, not always to a standard resilient enough to the next calamity.  To improve response to such disasters, Humanitarian agencies are developing tools to assess vulnerability and prepare regions at risk with the resources and know how to respond more effectively and efficiently to hurricanes, monsoons, droughts and volcanoes.

In Humanitarian Logistics terms each disaster has three core phases: preparation and readiness; response and, rehabilitation. Here, we look at how vulnerability is assessed and the impact this has on response. Then, we explore what happens after the weather or the rubble clears and, highlight the potential for Transformational Logistics to be a catalyst throughout the rehabilitation phase to deliver livelihoods, self-sufficiency and, sustainable growth.

What happens next?


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. (more…)

For many, Logistics has been the Cinderella of the Business World; far too often seen as no more than a support function for sales, marketing and production. This view has been transformed with technology and, globalisation. As Martin Christopher makes plain, supply chains compete not companies and this is an indication of the importance of the end-to-end integration of ever better, cheaper and faster flows of materials, information and cash beyond any single firm.

The Logistics and Supply Chain industry is a broadly based sector with widely fluctuating levels of investment, technology and, performance in vastly contrasting markets that are developed, developing or growing at high speed like Brazil, Russia, India and China; then, beyond commercial markets dealing in profits or more inclusive added value there are humanitarian focussed supply chains dealing in lives saved.

On December 26th 2004 an earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, struck 240 kms off the coast of Indonesia triggered a tsunami and waves of up to 30 metres devastated over 800 kms of coastline around the Indian Ocean. Over 230,000 people were reported dead or missing; over 500,000 were displaced and over $500 million was raised to deal with the Emergency and, build back better. In 2005, another earthquake in Pakistan wrecked an already fragile economy. An estimated 86,000 died and 33,000 buildings collapsed leaving over 4 million homeless. In Sichuan, China in 2008 another earthquake collapsed over 5 million buildings and wrecked 53,000 kms of roads and 48,000 fresh water pipes. Over 90,000 people died and over 5 million people were left homeless. And in Myanmar in the same year a cyclone that was forecast by an agency that had been set up post tsunami led to many thousands of lives that could have been saved – had the military Junta allowed Humanitarian agencies to help out. And this year we have seen an earth quake in Haiti and another in Chile that have devastated (see elsewhere on this Blog) the local economy. We can add another set of grimmer tales from war zones where all types of connectivity are ruptured and vital supplies of food and medicine are unable to reach those who need them most – without the aid of Humanitarian agencies and the logistics skills that enable them to respond to an emergency and move in to pick up the pieces.

Humanitarian Logistics is not measured by better, cheaper and faster routes to market for all manner of packaged and industrial goods; it is measured in lives saved and, increasingly, the ability to get a ravaged and dislocated economy back on its feet fast. No two emergencies are alike. For example, Afghanistan is not Iraq. Where Iraq was a modern society with significant urbanisation and a centralised state that could be reconstructed; Afghanistan had few such building blocks in place. In the same way, Chile has been a fully functioning economy for years before the earthquake struck whereas the task for the Humanitarian effort in Haiti was much more than getting the economy back on its feet. As Paul Collier pointed out – Haiti has never been on its feet in the first place. These factors are understood way before any disaster hits. Does this guide our actions and make our response any more effective and efficient?  (more…)

During the 14th century Gutenberg’s printing press was given a major boost from a sudden surplus of rags that could be re-cycled and used to make cheaper paper to meet the growing demand for knowledge from Renaissance man. The Black Death (1348-50) had swept through Europe leaving between 25 to 40 million dead and, with their passing, heaps of unwanted clothes. Rag paper was cheaper than vellum or parchment; both of which were made from even rarer animal skins. Innovation comes from many sources and so too in Haiti after the earthquake where a whole host of markets have opened up to answer basic needs and, give hope to survivors.

Trawling the web; listening to the media and speaking to those on the ground the theme of the informal response comes over as a hugely important and much misunderstood component of the recovery effort. The response of twenty eight year old Sauveur Celestine is a case in point. Sauveur is now an unemployed accountant sleeping rough in the camps in the destroyed Presidential Palace. He lost his 3 year old son in the disaster and, these days, is re-building his life by recharging cellphones in the road using batteries from wrecked cars. He earns a few dollars a day; just enough to pay for food but, more importantly, the job keeps him focussed on his own life ahead rather than slump in despair. And yet, this job did not come from a headhunter or, from any government employment agency. It comes from a spirit of survival, vitality and ingenuity that more often than not in these situations comes from the informal economy – without which this situation would be far worse.   (more…)

A busy weekend listening to the BBC World Service; reaction to the Post below; skype calls and dialogue about the Logistics dimension to this Haiti tragedy that is taking death to industrial proportions. The whole disaster is exposing a raw debate on how to re-invent Haiti – the need to clear away the debris and build the logistics that can feed the mess with immediate and then longer term solutions. And yet, as Professor Paul Collier made it plain on the BBC: “this is not about getting Haiti back on its feet. It has never been on its feet. The place needs a total transformation”. These notes build on the various strands of information and insight to explore what can and should happen in places like Haiti going forward. It leaves the here and now as the preside of response teams and seeks to dig deeper to root causes and, a framework for a logistics transformation that is crucial to a sustainable future.

What next?

I listened to the World Service. A woman screeched: “This country has no President; no Government; no Magistrates to deal with looters; no Police force to bring them to justice; no mayor to coordinate the answers. I have no husband; no children; no home; no food; no water … no hope.” Meanwhile, we hear that sixty miles away from the disaster cruise liners are docking and VIPs land to survey the scene for another photo shoot and soundbite. Up the shattered road at the airport, planes with vital supplies are turned away – because the airstrip is too congested. Three planes a day landed before the earthquake; 65 yesterday; 100 soon. The focus turns to solving the airport bottleneck only to find that the “pipe” (read supply chain for a nation) is not fit for purpose further down the line.   (more…)

If ever the world needed reminding of the importance of Logistics then, Haiti has been a brutal wake-up call. Media coverage of the earthquake and the after shocks has generated graphic illustrations of shattered buildings; wrecked infrastructure and, thousands of dead – though a bitter irony saw the main prison left intact save for fisures that provided easy exit for hundreds of criminals to roam free amidst the chaos.

Logistics is a vital lifeline and yet, an already creaking infrastructure has been exposed as utterly useless for any mobilisation of efforts to deliver vital rescue, food and medical supplies. Bluntly, this was a logistics nightmare waiting to happen and begs the question: when are we going to invest on disaster preparedness; kick the tyres and deal with constraints on a regular basis.

Now, in Haiti, a massive logistics effort is underway to sort out the mess. The USS Carl Vincent has been deployed as an offshore port to replace the hopelessly unfit for purpose port of Port au Prince – it is fitted with water purifying equipment capable of making 1.8 m litres of fresh water per day; Santo Domingo is being used as a staging area for inbound logistics and a second logistics platform at Barahone on the South coast of the Dominican Republic is being set up. Have a look at this overview of the seaport of Port au Prince taken by the Logistics Cluster.

What next?


Sixty years after the United Nations signed the Declaration of Human Rights, meetings were held in Paris during December 2008 between UN officials and Business Leaders to explore ways to widen the scope of the Human Rights agenda.

In an interview with France 24 Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland (1990-97); former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002) and now leader of the Realizing Rights Group focussed on ethical globalisation initiatives, spoke of broadening the Human Rights agenda to include fair trade; the plight of children in the workplace; the empowerment of women in political and business circles and above all Action Against Poverty. Logistics and the Supply Chain figure in each of these issues.

Celebrating the fact that over 230 companies worldwide have become involved in this initiative, Mary Robinson said: “I am encouraged to see more and more companies taking a public stand on human rights. This is yet another sign that human rights are becoming part of the mainstream business agenda.” (more…)

Today Africa is divided into forty-six states, more than three times the number in Asia (whose land surface is almost 50% larger) and nearly four times the number in South America.[i] These boundaries cut through 177 cultural areas and this is a major seedbed for the informal economy. Despite these facts, few rail or roadways cross borders and there are no commercially navigable rivers to facilitate the movement of goods either. Add in the infrastructure that has been ravaged by war, the often rife corruption and poor governance and the picture is clear. There are few means in place to move whatever is extracted or generated from the vast natural resources of Africa to any place else. This is the key. If you can’t move what you produce cost effectively, you are physically and economically trapped. Logistics is key.