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Logistics questions around the Haiti earthquake

by Michael Keizer on January 16, 2010

Perhaps unsurprisingly (although it did surprise me, for reasons that I will explain later), I have received a lot of questions about the logistics of the Haiti response. Some of the most frequently asked questions, with a stab at some answers.

But first: although I am on standby for Haiti, I am not there, so everything that I say here specifically about the situation there is only second-hand, from what I hear from friends and colleagues and from what I read in the media.

And secondly: this is not a crash course in emergency logistics, nor will it be very helpful for the logisticians who are there or will be going there. If anything that you read here is new to you, you have no business of going to Haiti as a logistician (unless you will be supervised there by people who do know).

Why is logistics in Haiti so much more difficult than in other disasters?

It isn’t. Really, not at all.

Every sudden-onset disaster causes similar logistics problems. The 2004 tsunami, the earthquakes in China and Iran, even hurricane Katrina in the US: in all of these cases logistics was the main limiting factor for aid.

A painful truth that you will not hear spelled out very often: emergency aid in these circumstances is totally dependent on local preparation, and any aid that that will come from outside the area will be largely ineffective until the logistics has been cleared up – which is usually only after several days in the most favourable circumstances. This is why disaster preparedness is so important, and it is also a main reason why countries like Haiti, which don’t have much capacity for disaster preparedness in the first place, are always so badly hit when the (inevitable) disaster strikes. It is also why expectations of what aid will accomplish over the next couple of days should not be set very high (and why twits like this guy, or this nitwit, should seriously shut up until they know what they are talking about – and that I use these harsh terms here, which I have never done before, should say something).

So why do I hear so much more about logistics now than in previous disasters?

I think you are asking the wrong person (I am a logistics specialist and have no clue about media), but I have observed two parallel developments over the last couple of years that might have contributed:

  1. For the second time in the history of modern of humanitarian aid (the first time was in the early 1980s), aid organisations have been refocussing on logistics as a core competence for aid. Especially the 2004 tsunami was a rude shock for many established organisations, who had become complacent about their logistics capacities and had stopped investing in it – and as a result operated at (to put it in friendly terms) less than optimal levels of effectiveness. Since then, logistics capacity is again increasingly seen as a sine qua non for effective aid, and emergency aid organisations are (again) talking about it as a key competency – also to the media.
  2. Also outside of the organisations themselves, people started to become interested in humanitarian logistics, and there has been much more coverage of it. Recently there have been a number of  books on the subject released, universities have started taking an interest in it as a subject of serious research (and teaching), aid watchers have put the occasional spotlight on aid logistics, and bloggers have started writing about it (with even the occasional blog totally dedicated to the subject). All this has contributed to more attention in the press and the public at large to aid logistics, and I think we now see the first results in the huge attention for the logistics in Haiti.

In that case, what are the main logistics challenges in disasters like this?

Remember, logistics is all about the five rights: the right goods, in the right quantity, to the right place, at the right time, at the right price. One of the main issues here (and one that I have seen very little coverage of) is that in a chaotic situation like this we just don’t know what are the right goods, the right quantities, or even the right place. Needs assessment is incredibly difficult, especially in view of how difficult it is to access some areas.

“So”, I hear you say, “just send as much as possible of everything, and we’ll sort things out later”. That would be a very nice idea, if we weren’t already struggling with overburdened and disrupted infrastructure (more about that later); everything that we send that is not needed, means that we cannot send something that is needed. This is a precarious juggling act, and although logisticians have some tools to deal with it (e.g. the much-vaunted kit system, a development from the 1980s first aid logistics revolution – but one that is nearing the end of its shelf life, for reasons that I will explain at some other time), it is still the major forgotten logistics challenge.

Furthermore, unused goods can become a serious liability after the crisis; e.g. the Indonesian government had to spend untold millions of dollars on disposal of unwanted goods after the 2004 tsunami, causing a serious burden on the reconstruction.

A second issue that is under-reported, is the logistics of logistics: logistics is an immensely fuel-hungry venture (think cars, think trucks, think planes and helicopters, think generators), and getting the fuel where it is needed is not easy. In this sense, Haiti will probably be rather easier than most crises, due to the proximity of two of the largest oil producing countries in the world, and the largest navy fleet in the world; expect one or more of the US Navy’s Brobdingnagian supply ships to turn up soon with large fuel stores.

A third main issue is the wide-spread destruction of physical infrastructure. Port-au-Prince’s harbour at the moment is effectively useless, the airport (not one with a very high capacity in the first place) is damaged, and roads are destroyed and blocked. Large transport helicopters would be immensely helpful but are by far the most fuel-guzzling mode of transport (there we go again with the juggling act) and are not that easy to get there because of their limited operational range; e.g. an Mi-26 (carrying 20 tonnes) ranges only 800 kilometres, which can be extended to 1900 kilometres using additional fuel tanks – but that would seriously impact on its load carrying capacity.

In the fourth place, communications will be difficult. Over the last years, aid organisations have become more and more reliant on telephone communications, and these will be disrupted and overburdened. Many organisations have lost their expertise in radio communications (five years ago, I could program and set up a Q-mac, a backpack-sized mobile HF transceiver, in ten minutes flat, three minutes if it was pre-programmed; I now would need a manual and at least 30 minutes), and many of their staff have no clue about radio protocol – which sounds boring but is absolutely necessary to prevent total chaos on your radio channels. As a result, communication will be a real challenge.

Fifth is coordination. There will be such a host of different organisations on the ground that it will be difficult to ensure that we don’t duplicate efforts (well, duplicate as little as possible). Even more important is to avoid hindering each other, e.g. by using the available infrastructure inefficiently, causing congestion. This is one of the reasons why I would seriously suggest smaller organisations and individuals (especially those that have no previous experience in emergency response) to stay away and not even consider going there before the third stage response starts to set in (probably in about two weeks). For the people on the ground, this means going to coordination meetings. People who have worked with me know that I mostly consider these as a waste of time (I think using personal networks is almost always much more effective and efficient) – but the one main exception is during the first phases of an emergency response. So yes, even in situations like this, humanitarian logistics will involve long hours in airless rooms trying to come to agreements and exchanging information; sorry to prick your romantic bubble.
Update January 17, 10 AM AEDST Apart from going to the coordination meetings, of course it is essential that aid logisticians use and contribute to the information on the log cluster web site.

And then there is the longer term to think of. Decisions taken now can have serious repercussions later, and this is something that every loggie worth their salt will continuously have in the back of their mind. The last thing you want to happen is saving a life now, but costing multiple lives later on in the response.

Apart from these six primary ones, there is a host of secondary issues that I will not bore you with, but that will cause my colleagues in the field more than one heartache.

Any good news?

Well, I already mentioned the proximity of Venezuela and the US. One other thing that will make my colleagues’ lives a bit easier is that, although the number of victims is staggering, the geographical spread of the disaster is relatively limited (compared to e.g. the South China, Pakistan, and Iran earthquakes), so once we can get them there and the fuel issue is solved, widespread use of helicopters actually is a realistic option. And finally, the neighbouring Dominican Republic has been spared the worst of the disaster and can be used as a staging ground for the response.

So what can I do?

For this stage of the response, not much. Donating money (not goods!) to a reputable aid organisation with expertise in emergency response and a pre-existing presence on the ground might help for the longer term, but in the short term the needs seem to be met. Keep on giving, but with an eye on the longer term.

Don’t go out there. You cannot help and will only be a burden to the people who can. The only exception is if you are a humanitarian or military logistician with experience in emergency response, in which case I would suggest that you contact the organisation with which you have worked before (other organisations will not have time to vet your credentials and will use their own roster of experienced people).

And finally: spread the word about these issues far and wide, so that people start giving for emergency preparedness and not only the response; including the building of capacity within the aid organisations, like expertise at HQ level. This is one of the reasons why aid organisations spend money on ‘overhead’, and why it is so silly to judge aid organisations by the percentage spent on overhead.

Finally, comment freely in the comments section, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.


January 18, 1 PM AEDST

  • WFP is contracting to get the fuel situation solved.
  • US forces have taken over traffic control of the Port-au-Prince airport, but ther are some questions about how they set priorities.
  • Security issues are now added to the list of logistics issues: there are reports of looting (especially at night) and the UN is recommending that aid convoys be secured by armed personnel, but there is some disagreement on how widespread and serious this actually is.

January 18, 4 PM AEDST

According to WFP, repairs to the south pier of Port-au-Prince’s harbour are underway. Informally, I have heard that some ships might be able to dock by Tuesday (local time); if that is true, that would be very good news!

January 19, 3 PM AEDST

  • The informal information I received about the opening of the harbour now seems to be confirmed officially.
  • Until the harbour opens, the airport remains one of the main bottlenecks. Conflicts about priorities are now fought out over Twitter, which I can only be very unhappy about: this is a triumph of the loudest voice instead of reason. Perhaps MSF’s flight should have gotten highest priority, but getting that about by flooding the USAF Twitter account is not the way to go — and I am afraid that this tactic will actually be detrimental to MSF’s interests and, more importantly, their patients’ interests in the long term.
  • In general, more and more aid does seem to get to the people who need it. This, again, follows more or less the normal pattern: as logistics bottlenecks are solved and needs are assessed, the ‘pipeline’ widens and lengthens and items are getting where they are needed.

January 19, 5 PM AEDST

WFP logistician and aid blogging guru Peter Casier, on his way to the Dominican Republic to head WFP’s logistics operations there, confirms that the fuel contract was obtained yesterday and that the first fuel truck already arrived in Port-au-Prince. This will take a lot of pressure from the logisticians there.

January 20, 11 AM AEDST

  • Director of communications for MSF-Canada, Avril Benoît, takes me to task on Twitter: she says that the concrete impact of the “Twitter agitation” is exaggerated and that Twitter is only a small part of MSF’s media advocacy. That might be so, but that does not negate that it was a poorly conceived idea that sets a precedent for future similar campaigns with even less reason. It will also not have made MSF any friends at the place where it matters: the people making the hour-to-hour decisions based on the priorities set — which put medical supplies only at fourth place, for reasons that one might disagree with but that are definitely not total nonsense.
  • As expected, the South pier of Port-au-Prince harbour can now receive geared ships and barges; however, the container terminal is still inoperative and remains so for the near future.
  • UNHAS has contracted a 12 mt plane that will start a cargo shuttle between Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince.

January 20, 11 PM AEDST

  • WFP starts a cargo shuttle between Santo Domingo and various sites in Haiti.
  • Apparently coordination on the ground between aid agencies is fairly good compared to earlier large-scale disasters. However, this is a second-hand impression gleaned from a very limited number of people, so it could be totally incorrect.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

J. January 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

Thanks for this post, Michael. I’m RTing as we speak.

I love the fact that you called out a couple of nitwits. Not something to do every day, but it appears to have been necessary in these cases.

From where I sit, one major difference between Haiti and China, Iran…… is quite simply it’s proximity to the United States. That and the accompanying media blitz now ongoing in an environment with almost zero local government restriction. In China, Myanmar… the discussion, at least in the media and therefore in public perception, stopped at the issue of basic access and the extent to which those governments restricted foreigners and stuff from outside moving about. In Haiti it’s all wide open. Suddenly the public is more aware than in previous disasters about the role and importance of logistics. Just my opinion.


Michael Keizer January 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Thanks, J. I must say that I was actually not at all planning to write anyhting now, but the number of people who asked me questions or pointedly suggested that I should write something was frankly amazing. And those rather annoying tweets by people who have no clue at all prodded me a bit further.

Your analysis about the reasons for more coverage of the logistics issues might be right; like I said, I am not a public communications maven, and I am just guessing.


gary s chapman January 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Really well done and insightful. Thanks for taking the time to present all of this valuable info. I too am on call…as a humanitarian photographer…not going till really needed to help tell any stories.


Michael Keizer January 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm

@gary s chapman
Thanks, Gary! And good luck if/when you’re going there.

Nice site, too!


rob_s January 17, 2010 at 2:44 am

As always, well-considered, coherent, high quality analysis.

I have one suggestion on which I’d value other perspectives. It is surprisingly rare for people routinely involved in disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness to actually experience emergencies of this scale and complexity. Maybe there would be little to be lost and much to be gained if more resources and effort were put into enabling those national staff involved in preparedness in particularly high risk cities (I’m thinking Kathmandu as an example at this point, but there are others) to experience the initial logistics lessons learned, and the recovery issues involved, at first hand at the earliest possible opportunity. There are doubtless a lot of obstacles, but there have for years been such problems with effective emergency preparedness in some of the poorer developing country megacities that readjustments in strategy seem essential at this point.


Michael Keizer January 17, 2010 at 8:22 am

Now that is one of the most interesting original ideas I have seen in ages. As you say, there will be a lot of obstacles, but the benefits for disaster preparedness might far outweigh the effort. Anybody else who cares to weigh in on this one? Perhaps steps are already on the way to do this somewhere?


Valerie Booth January 18, 2010 at 2:34 am

Thank you for posting this information about disaster relief logistics. This is an excellent overview and your to-the-point commentary necessary and well-taken.

I’ll retweet and post link from my blog.


Valerie Booth January 18, 2010 at 4:09 am


If I read your comment correctly you are suggesting a “Debriefing” of sorts to folks who are involved at a national level with emergency preparedness, yes?

I think that is an excellent idea and as a non-logistics person, I am very surprised to learn this is not already done. I would consider a “Lessons Learned” seminar and subsequent global discussion incredibly beneficial. If offered with a view toward improvement, disseminating and on-going objective critique could make future efforts more efficient.

Disaster relief and emergency preparedness has to be considered in the context of government restriction/access (as per J.). It is a bit of a shame that these two ends aren’t considered solely in terms of current infrastructure.


Michael Keizer January 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

@Valerie Booth
Thanks, Valerie!

I will leave Rob to confirm, but I think that what he proposes goes a bit further than that: sending e.g. Nepalese disaster preparedness people to e.g. Haiti to see first-hand what is happening. That, at least, is how I interpreted his suggestion, but I could be wrong.

Obviously, there are quite a number of issues around such a mechanism, some of which might be prohibitive — but it is definitely an interesting suggestion.

And yes, I can confirm that ‘lessons learned’ are shared around the globe. The issues in emergency preparedness usually have nothing to do with dissemination. However, there is still a big difference between reading about these lessons in an academic paper or a manual on the one hand, and seeing them first-hand in a disaster area. That is why I find Rob’s suggestion so intriguing.


Rob Bell January 18, 2010 at 8:48 am

As ever, hugely insightful. I had been thinking this through and from a transformational logitistics perspective exploring ways in which the future agenda can be built in to the response. You put it very well – emergency preparedness not just response. The Tsunami is a case in point. Warning equipment was available and deployed elsewhere; too expensive to set up in the place it hit and part of preparedness that has to be an increasingly important imperative for International agencies.


Michael Keizer January 18, 2010 at 9:16 am

@Rob Bell
Thanks, Rob.

Yes, I agree that this is where TL would come into its right.

(Others: have a look at Rob’s blog, where he is developing this concept. Great stuff!)


Valerie Booth January 18, 2010 at 9:46 am

@Michael Keizer

I re-read rob_s’ post with your explanation in mind (don’t know why I didn’t understand it that way in the first place – viva la difference!).

I don’t really understand the difficulties or challenges in getting people already trained for disaster relief and emergency preparedness to the scene in Haiti. I’ll confess my utter ignorance of this field if it isn’t already glaringly obvious.

I am assuming these folks are part of recognized groups so gaining access should not be a problem?

What are the barriers? Or are there no known barriers to rob_s’ scenario? Perhaps there is simply the recognition that the scale of this disaster presents the best opportunity for field experience. (Please, I don’t mean to sound clinical about this; I don’t know how else to ask it.)


Michael Keizer January 18, 2010 at 10:08 am

@Valerie Booth
No worries, Valerie, it doesn’t sound clinical at all!

First of all: in some ways, this is already happening: many countries send teams from their own emergency services over to aid, but keeping in mind that it also is a good way for those team to gain experience that could be useful if a disaster would strike in their own countries. However, this is mainly limited to teams from wealthier countries, which (on the whole) are already reasonably well prepared — although what happened during the Katrina crisis in the US might indicate otherwise. Consequently, countries that would benefit most will not be able to do so: because they have no such services in the first place, or because they don’t have the means to send them over, or for may other reasons.

Some of the issues that might work against this scenario:
– As you say, these people are trained, but they don’t have any experience; after all, the whole point of this is to get them some experience. Especially in the first stages of a disaster like this, experience is hugely important; you will see that many aid organisations use their most experienced people on a rotating schedule, just to make sure that they constantly have a cadre of reasonably fresh but highly people on the ground.
– Even though they don’t have the experience, they do need to be well-trained. For many of the countries in question, this is already an issue.
– Donors will need to start funding this sort of thing (the countries themselves will often not have the means to do so); but because disaster preparedness is not a ‘sexy’ subject, it will difficult to find donors who are willing to do so.

I am not saying that this is impossible, just that there are some obstacles to overcome. In any case, it is a very interesting suggestion that should be discussed and tried.


rob_s January 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

@Valerie Booth

Thanks Valerie and Michael,

Yes. I’m talking here primarily about senior emergency planning staff in the administrations of large cities in developing countries where there is a very high risk of earthquakes in future. Whilst there are various short training courses in different regions for emergency planning staff, they tend to be classroom-based. I’m interested in the practicalities of bringing small numbers of selected, capable, senior planning officials (including those specifically with logistics responsibilities) into a country whilst a major emergency is in progress, to experience the decision-making environment. In addition (and possibly as an alternative) I’m also interested in the feasibility of doing the same thing at a slightly later stage – say within two to three weeks – to demonstrate the context in which crucial and strategic early recovery and reconstruction decisions are made. This may well have been tried already, particularly in the health sector (PAHO comes to mind immediately). Plenty of excellent people have struggled for years to find better ways of doing things. I’m just not aware of any structured effort myself. I should also add that any exercise like this undoubtedly needs to be considered in the broader and rather messy context of international preparedness training as a whole. And it has to include real-world factors such as staff turnover rates, and why and how particular administrators got their jobs in the first place, and visa processing, amongst many others. Detail is everything.

As Valerie mentions, debriefing and reviews of lessons learned would certainly be part of this. Thankfully, many of the more professional and experienced aid agencies do now put a lot of hard effort into analysing the outcomes of their own deployments. It’s just that most of the outsiders getting this rare practical experience are journalists, western aid workers and soldiers, and for the great majority it is never called on again.


cynan_sez January 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Why is logistics in Haiti so much more difficult than in other disasters?
It isn’t. Really, not at all.

Exactly. Come on — Pakistan Earthquake 2005 presented immense challenges (high altitude, impending winter, remote villages, destroyed bridges) that required expensive solutions (particularly heli lift) for a sustained period. To be fair there was still a very functional domestic state apparatus in support (Pakistan military) which is not the case for Haiti; but the USMIL should be able to stand in for that in the short term. The logs challenges of PAP (by the sea) should not be as challenging in terms of the delays or service complexity; really the problems once the port is operational are going to be more simply about the unprecedented sustained traffic volume.


akouvi January 19, 2010 at 4:02 am

Thanks to Michael and commenters for answering questions/doubts that have been popping up in my mind in the last few days…


dan randall January 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm

with a million or so locals in need of money and work, are organizations able to employ them? Can you get them to work for 5-20/day? It would give them a purpose and income. A lot cheaper than sending in outsiders who would need housing-food.


dan randall January 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm

the navy has about 100 lcac. Some on the Bataan. They only need a beach area to land in the port. The navy is sending the usns Grasp to the port. How long to put in some kind of functioning pier?


Michael Keizer January 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm

@dan randall
Dan: please keep the discussion on-topic (logistics), like your other post. Thanks.


Michael Keizer January 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

@dan randall
As you suggest, it won’t be long to set up some sort fo pier. The issue is that most aid (except food) arrives in 40′ containers, which are impossible to offload without serious port facilities — you can’t move a container by hand, no matter how many people you use for the task. Bulk shipments would now still be loaded, so that would have led to delays on the other side.

But as I wrote in my latest update, it seems as if port repairs are moving quickly now, thanks to the US Navy and WFP.


Liz January 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Thank you. I am so glad I followed to your post. An article like this should appear in the New York Times or similar widely distributed publication. Most people would get it and given the high impact of this disaster, I believe the public education value would be long lasting. For those who are not in the disaster logistics business, I can understand the human impulse to hasten help to whatever horrid situation they are standing in front of at the moment. I know I would be one of them. It is most difficult to grasp the concept of saving thousands of lives in the future based on decisions made today, when one tenuous life hangs in the balance in front of you.


Michael Keizer January 20, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for that very generous comment, Liz!


hamletta January 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I’m so glad I found your post!

I was unemployed during the Katrina disaster, and watched way too much live footage. I felt so bad for those Coast Guard rescuers who braved power lines and trees to pull all those people off of rooftops, only to have some of them perish for lack of clean water.

Liz is right. People get that what you and your colleagues do is important; they just don’t know that anybody does it.

Thank you, and God bless you all.


Claire February 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm

This is a great piece, very well written. I am a logistician myself working in disaster management. I feel very strongly about the harm that sending unwanted goods to a disaster zone does. It’s really great that people want to help but you have to have worked there to really realise why it is actually a hinderance. I’ve written more about it in my blog http://blogs.redcross.org.uk/emergencies/2010/01/help-not-hinder-haiti/


Michael Keizer February 7, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Thanks, Claire! As you can imagine, I totally agree with you concerning unwanted donations. I have written a bit before about the challenges of reverse logistics in aid, and I am sure I will give it more attention in the future. In the mean time, I would recommend that everybody who is interested in the issues around unwanted donations have a look at Claire’s very well-written blog post, and at the comments below it. Other good sources are this post at Saundra Schimmelpfennig’s blog Good intentions are not enough; and this guest post by Alanna Shaikh on Aid Watch.


Robin July 6, 2010 at 1:17 am

Hi Michael-
I am 15 year disaster logistician, 10 years in humanitarian agencies. Thanks for blogging on these topics. I very much agree with your assessment that there are always logistics challenges, and an increased culture of logistics preparedness is the best way forward for ‘helping better.’ I would add that I also felt as though the US Govt was waving this proclamation of ‘the logistics are challenging’ due to a lack of US understanding that challenging logistics is pretty standard in underdeveloped disasters; and due to an overall naive approach by Americans that domestic assumptions and ways of operating would work in Haiti. This approach led to much greater challenges . In particular, the US military beelined for taking over the PaP airport with the Haiti Govt, and once permitted (3 days in), the lack of coordination with the international aid community made access near impossible for INGOs. (See some of the press from the outspoken MSF.) In the Tsunami, the US military as much more cooperative with the humanitarian community and USAID–perhaps because it was one of many militaries vs holdign overwhelming domination– to support airlift priority based on assessed needs, and directed air assets in order of the agreed priority. In the case of Haiti, once the US military took control of the airport, prioritization was inadequate and misaligned. This mechanism remained at the whims of an inexperienced crew, until weeks into the response after much pressure from our community. Hence, The PaP gate, which was allowing approximately 100 flights in a day, was made wide open to a) the outpouring of domestic charities with no international experience, as well b) high level dignitaries-many of these 2 categories were unprepared for a non-America environment, and became themselves in need of aid. And finally, c) military filled 50% of the pipeline to bring in construction assets for building another runway (not the usual priority when people need food, water and medical). INGOs were forced to resort to entry via DR to avoid this small catastrophe, and work around the thousands of inexperienced people creating greater chaos and taking up the precious logistics resources.


Michael Keizer July 6, 2010 at 8:50 am

Thanks for that insider’s view, Robion! Much of what you say is echoed by others that I have talked with.

Concerning MSF’s outspokenness around these issues: you might be interested in this presentation from Avril Benoît, who coordinated MSF’s media effort around the Haiti response, including the Twitter ‘campaign’ around airport access:


Sara Gunn November 10, 2010 at 5:10 am

Fascinating Michael! Great ideas! Great analysis. Your insight is appreciated. I’m an American graduate student studying in Leiden, Netherlands (near the Hague) and researching logistical coordination following natural disaster in Haiti. I wanted to say thank you for posting this. I’m wondering if I can even answer this question (it’s difficult)– What conditions need to be put in place for logistical support and and humanitarian relief coordination to work?

What do we need to prepare long before natural disasters occur? I know disaster preparedness is key (but getting donors to sponsor prevention management projects is more difficult than getting donors to sponsor current disaster relief). Infrastructure and roads are also important (but disasters can cause these to be inaccessible to NGOs). Empowering civil society (i.e. political will, government support, and local participation of various interest groups) in projects is also important (but some people are not emotionally ready for work following natural disasters). ICTs and the use of cell phones is on the rise (but that it only one avenue for successful coordination). What conditions are needed? If you know, I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks again Michael.


Michael Keizer November 10, 2010 at 8:08 am

Thanks for the kind words, Sara! Much appreciated.

Regarding your question: all the elements you mention are important, but I think the most important thing to realise is that there is no standard recipe that will always lead to success. What works in the Netherlands might will probably not work at all in the US — and those are two developed countries with fairly similar cultures (definitely more similar than, say, Haiti and Pakistan, or even Congo and Mali). It may take even local variations to get things to work — e.g., I can totally imagine a very different situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region from what should be done in its Somali region.

My take is that the only thing we can do is to develop tools and train people to use those tools — and, perhaps more importantly, to use the right tool at the right time and place. As usual, no easy answers.

I would love to see what you come up with!


Sara Gunn February 3, 2012 at 8:04 am

Hello Michael,

In November 2010 we corresponded about your work and lessons learned in Haiti.

In 2011, I completed my Master’s thesis about aid coordination in Haiti. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is now reviewing my manuscript for publishing. “LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing specializes in the publication of high-quality research works; to be specific theses, dissertations and postdoctoral theses from respected institutions worldwide.”

My question to you is this:
Do I have your permission to publish your name and your words in my interview section of my thesis? (i.e. quoted from your words on this “leave a comment” trend above)?

Thanks for your feedback, Sara J. Gunn.


Michael Keizer February 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hello Sara,

I have just sent you an email message about this.


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