Logistics industry rises to the humanitarian challenge

By Nicholas Rutherford, Event Director, AidEx

Logistics is the cornerstone of aid delivery and disaster response - and the second largest budget cost for humanitarian organisations.  Humanitarian logistics specialises in the movement of aid resources to an affected area – such as staff, food and medicine – to mitigate the consequences of an emergency or natural disaster.


Previously a core component in commercial supply chains, logistics is now one of the most important tools in humanitarian operations. In 2010 it was estimated that 80% of the United Nations humanitarian aid budget was spent on logistics, totalling approximately UD $ 7 billion. So how can the logistics industry better adapt to the demands of the humanitarian sector? And what does the future look like for humanitarian logistics?


Firstly, the role of the fleet manager in a humanitarian organisation has rightly been identified as critical to achieving wider aid delivery goals. Fleet managers hold the lives of staff in their hands, as well as managing high-value transport assets.


Companies which gain insights from fleet managers into their logistics requirements for the next financial year – in terms of how they envision moving staff and aid resources – gain a competitive edge.


The decision-making process of fleet managers in logistics planning currently focuses on three main areas – safety, cost-efficiency and environmental impact. Safety is a paramount concern, as 91% of road fatalities occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these countries have just half of the world's vehicles. For aid workers in the field, travelling in a vehicle is usually the most dangerous activity they face, due to driving during night time, poor roads, and public lack of understanding of road safety guidelines.


Cost-efficiency means using the right tool for the job. Whilst four-wheel drive vehicles are appropriate for gaining access to rural areas and disaster-struck communities, a large number of aid recipients now live in slums and urban areas, requiring a more traditional sedan-style car. Significantly for the logistics industry, fleet managers recognise the cost savings in frequently purchasing new vehicles – as they are safer, more reliable, have lower maintenance costs and pollute less.


In terms of environmental considerations, humanitarian organisations are prioritising ‘green fleets’. Preferred vehicles have reduced emissions and by-product pollution, through efficient combustion mechanisms and the ability to use alternative fuel sources. At the same time, fleet training is helping reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian logistics. For executive-level staff, this is through guidance on pre-positioning vehicles and resources, combining transport deliveries, and implementing data collection methods. For operations staff, this is through applying practical advice, such as performing regular vehicle maintenance and not over-revving engines. In light of the benefits of fleet management training to ensure the safe and efficient delivery of aid, AidEx has joined up with Fleet Forumthis year, to fund the training of sixteen management-level aid workersoperating in Africa and the Middle East. They will receive hands-on and theoretical training in the areas of fleet efficiency, road safety and green practices.


So what does the future look like for humanitarian logistics? In my role at AidEx I note the increasingly important role of emerging economies. For example, in the public sector, the Russian Agency for International Humanitarian Operations (Emercom Russia) is advancing its disaster response capabilities. Notably in 2012, Russia donated 41 Kamaz trucks valued at US $2.7 million, to provide essential food deliveries throughout Afghanistan.


In the private sector, India’s Tata Motors entered the market in 2010, launching their humanitarian product range including trucks, buses and passenger cars - with the popular Xenon pick-up model able to be converted into an ambulance, people carrier or mobile workshop. As a clear statement of intention, Tata partnered with Conrico International- a UK-based company that regularly exhibits at AidEx and that has over 50 years experience in supplying logistics equipment to the humanitarian sector.


Together they have provided ground support for post-earthquake rehabilitation work in Haiti, and rolled out a ‘demonstrator loan programme’ where Tata products are live-tested in key locations by members of aid and development organisations.


According to World Vision International, just two large emergencies were recorded in 1982, compared with 90 in 2000, and an estimated 170 by 2020. As the frequency and severity of emergencies escalates, humanitarian logistics is an area where industry has a real opportunity to make a tangible difference to the lives of aid recipients around the world.

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