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If you have followed this blog, you will know that I am very much in favour of more academic input into our logistics efforts. As you can imagine, I was tickled pink when I saw the ads for a new book about humanitarian logistics, written by respected INSEAD academics Rolando Tomasini and Luk Van Wassenhove.

Let me not mince words here: I am disappointed. Expectations are high when a prestigious university like INSEAD releases a book under its own impressum, but those expectations are not met – not even closely. The reason actually is made clear in the first paragraph of the book. The authors describe their experience in humanitarian logistics on which they base the book: case studies they did for WFP/UNJLC, the IFRC, and FUNDESUMA. In other words, they base a book about humanitarian logistics in general on limited experience with three organisations that are very unrepresentative of the sector as a whole. This has clear effects throughout the book: although they do make some valid observations (especially when they talk about partnering with the private sector, which is clearly their focus), much of what they describe is over-simplified, or even dead wrong.

All three of the organisations they worked with (especially the IFRC and FUNDESUMA) have a focus on disaster aid, which obviously skewed their view severely. It leads to occasionally ridiculous assertions; a good example is that, according to Tomasini and Van Wassenhove, in humanitarian supply chains “… time cycles are very short [and] new and unprecedented demands occur frequently …” (p. 8). Definitely true in some types of humanitarian response – specifically disaster response – but totally untrue of many other types. When the authors describe the characteristics of a humanitarian supply line (ch. 1), they very clearly have a specific type of humanitarian response in mind; a type of response that in reality makes up a minority of humanitarian work.

Chapter 5, which is devoted to information management (which people who know me will immediately recognise as one of my personal hobby horses), goes as far as basically describing the SUMA model (with a bit of info about UNJLC’s website thrown in for good measure) as the paradigm to follow, without recognising that it is totally inappropriate for a majority of humanitarian aid work. A bit of scrutiny of e.g. humanitarian.info would have been useful to inform this chapter.

The book comes into its own in chapter 7, about partnerships between humanitarian and corporate organisations. It is very obvious that this is what the authors are experts in, and it is the most useful and well-written chapter of the book. Sadly, that is not enough to justify its rather inflated price.

All in all, this is a missed chance. Gentlemen, I just know you can do better: get to it.


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H1N1: Logistics during a pandemic (3)

by Jurgen Hulst on June 12, 2009

So it’s a pandemic, now what? Let’s assume you’ve read through Michael’s post on contingency planning and his follow-up ‘the logistics of swine flu aid’ and your organisation has updated their pandemic preparedness plans, or is in the process of doing so now. Did you think of everything?

meeting counterparts in protective suits

Meeting counterparts. Source: A.Cook

Let’s take another look at your;

  • Supply chain
  • Staff protection
  • Programme operations

Supply chain and border crossings

Contingency planning done at country level with UN PIC and governments suggests an increased role of national military and police in case of a pandemic outbreak when national services and infrastructure will be impacted.

A high level of staff absenteeism (30% or higher) will extend to your suppliers; make sure to include them in your plans. Will your logistics staff and your shipping agent and main transporter be able to handle customs clearance and possible extra measures for quarantine and maintaining security of supplies? Do they know how to handle cold chain & clearance procedures for medicines & vaccines, which may be needed during a pandemic?

Staff protection

You’ve considered protective equipment for your staff who will be in contact with influenza patients (either at work or at home) and may have purchased particulate face masks, gloves and hand washing gel, maybe even Tyvek protection suits if you’re with a medical organisation.

Did you consider training for protective measures? A pandemic logistics simulation training P2LX in Nov.2008, found that a major part of using protective equipment is learning how to assess the level of risk and deciding when to use it. And: You learn by doing it, not by reading about it. Secondly, the protection of this type of equipment is only effective when used properly.

Programme operations

You went through the four steps as recommended in this earlier post ; prioritise your logistics, sensitivity analysis, contingency planning and communication.

Your contingency planning answered the important question: How will your programme operations adapt to a national pandemic situation, with significantly less human resources and an increased strain on the supply chain?

Does your pandemic preparedness plan extend to your offices at field level? And does it include your local implementing partners? If not, perhaps now is the time to sit down with your partners at field level to discuss their role and activities.

Take note that staff protection will also affect them. How will they deal with it when your staff has all the protective gear and they don’t? Things could get ugly.

In case you are with a medical organisation, did you consider the additional requirements or shift of focus of your programme if you’re suddenly confronted with a surge in influenza patients and deteriorating local healthcare services?


Now that H1N1 has spread globally and a pandemic has been officially declared a possibility is that we will continue to see a gradual increase in cases, until a larger local outbreak happens in a particular region or perhaps your country.

To maintain the key activities of your programme in the field during an outbreak, the basic principle of the supply chain still applies: the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Your programme operations will only continue successfully if you have looked beyond your own organisation and included suppliers and local implementing partners in your planning, communication and training.
(Guestpost by Jurgen Hulst, @NFIguy)

Prepared? Source: UN Pandemic Influenza Contingency (PIC)

Preparedness. Source: UN PIC - OCHA


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Coordinating logistics

by Jurgen Hulst on May 27, 2009

'UN JLC recruitment poster' by Nigelito @ flickr

Editor’s note: As a first on this blog, I have asked Jurgen Hulst, a colleague for which I have tremendous respect, to write a guest post on coordination of logistics. Jurgen started in 2000 with humanitarian work in South America. Since then he has been doing various work always with a health logistics focus in several humanitarian emergencies worldwide. In 2005 he made the switch from an NGO to logistics work at a big UN agency. He is currently active in supply chain improvement and emergency logistics coordination, through the cluster approach. Jurgen can be found on Twitter as @NFIGuy.

The private sector acknowledged that creating partner networks to improve collaboration can improve supply chain efficiency and save millions. The United Nations, mindful that a collective effort could strengthen a humanitarian response in emergencies, in 1991 established OCHA to improve coordination.

Easier said than done. Do you need to be coordinated?

Right, until 2005 it was business as usual, until an independent review identified long-standing gaps: weak partnerships and insufficient accountability.

As a result in 2005 the IASC, a “unique forum involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners”, started the Humanitarian Reform, using the cluster approach as a new, improved, way of creating partnerships and improving collaboration.

What does this mean for logistics during a humanitarian emergency? It means that in recent new emergencies such as in Pakistan and Gaza and in ongoing humanitarian crises, a Logistics Cluster, supported by WFP, can provide a platform for local and international NGO’s, government and UN agencies to improve logistics collaboration; and consequently improve the overall humanitarian response.

If you are actively involved in logistics in a humanitarian crisis:

  1. Visit http://www.logcluster.org/ to find out if your country has a Logistics Cluster. If so, this site will be good source for up to date maps, road, air, sea transport and contact information. If not, it is still a useful resource for Logistics toolkits & links.
  2. Participate in the next local Logistics Cluster meeting, because you can meet colleagues and find solutions for customs issues, increased transport prices and shortages of warehouse space, to name a few frequent problems.
  3. Participate even if your organisation has well established operations, because your knowledge can help newcomers, while others agencies may offer supplies and services which you can use immediately.
  4. Turn to WFP as a ‘provider of last resort’ for logistics. This means that WFP, as the lead agency for Logistics, accepted the commitment to do their utmost to fill critical gaps in the logistics operations during a humanitarian response.

Logistics and supply chain management in the private sector evolved from doing it yourself, to outsourcing parts of it (third party logistics or 3PL), into using companies which provide integrated supply chain solutions (fourth party logistics or 4PL).

Similar to 4PL the Logistics Cluster provides a unique opportunity for the humanitarian community to share assets and competencies, in order to reach integrated solutions. However, contrary to 4PL, a Logistics Cluster or lead agency does not attempt to run logistics operations on behalf of your organisation.

Does it work, or is it just another talk shop? I invite commenters to provide their own experiences.

(Image: UN JLC recruitment poster by Nigelito @ flickr)


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The latest professional reading: Marie Claire on HAS

by Michael Keizer on March 23, 2009

I never thought I would ever feature an article from Marie Claire, but maintaining a blog takes you places. In a recent issue, they interviewed Danielle Aitchison, a pilot for the UN’s Humanitarian Air Services. Anybody who has ever worked in humanitarian hotspots will know how important UNHAS’ services are for logistics operations, and even though I have some reservations about the content and general tone of the interview, it still well worth reading. Enjoy!

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A couple of weeks back I wrote about a possible upcoming food crisis, and what it could mean for aid logistics. This made me finally pick up HPN‘s latest Good Practice Review, Emergency food security interventions, by Daniel Maxwell et al, which has been waiting on my to-read stack for some weeks. My friends, I was shocked — shocked, I say! (Add appropriate TV preacher’s voice here.)

When we talk about large-scale aid logistics, WFP is the obvious role model: no other aid agency moves such large amounts of goods over such long distances. (Whether or not this is a good idea in the first place is debatable, and will be debated in a future posting — but what is clear that at this stage WFP is doing it). Now why would the World Food Programme, from all other UN and other aid agencies, be the one with the largest logistics capacity?

Very simple: because (and read this well, Messrs Maxwell et al): good logistics is essential for food aid! Food aid (perhaps with the exception of cash transfers) needs good logistics like medical aid needs medical infrastructure.

So why, you may well ask, why this sermon? Why all this bold font? What, my dear Michael,  is the cause of your outrage? Well, believe it or not, but Maxwell et al managed to write a 147-page guide on emergency food aid… including a half-page on logistics. That is right, they spend about 0.3% of their (otherwise admirable) review on it. Now does that seem right to you?

(Photo: EU food aid, courtesy of Rock Cohen. Some rights reserved.)


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