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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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Gaza convoy has arrived

by Michael Keizer on March 10, 2009

A short update on my previous posting: the Viva Gaza convoy apparently arrived yesterday (or today, depending in which time zone you are) in Gaza — which makes it the first succesful privately organised aid convoy of this size.

Although… my friend and fellow humanitarian Paras Valeh points out that, back in 1995, a privately organised aid convoy negotiated its way from London to Bosnia. Apparently the convoy was organised by UCL Medical School students. I have tried to find some further information on this convoy, but so far without luck. Anybody who would be able to shed some light?


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Private aid logistics – a new era?

by Michael Keizer on February 16, 2009

An aid convoy set off yesterday from London to Gaza, organised by a number of private donors and organisers. By itself this is nothing new: trucks and small convoys with private aid have been going on for quite some time already, mainly to Eastern Europe. However, there is one difference here: the Viva Gaza convoy comprised about 100 vehicles, amongst which a number of ambulances loaded with medical supplies.

This is more than a quantitative difference: with this convoy, privately organised aid suddenly has reached a scale that puts it in the same league as many established international aid organisations. Up to now, private aid was always limited by the lack of logistics capacity: a more or less hard limit of about ten vehicles, about fifty staff, and about 10 metric tonnes of goods seemed to prevent private aid from ever achieving the scale of professionally organised aid. This convoy smashes that limit with panache.

Not so long ago, ‘citizen journalism’ was seen as a fringe activity that could never threaten the position of the printed press. Just a couple of years later, is was suddenly perceived as the biggest danger to the newspaper industry in decades. These days, most of us would see it as an interesting and useful complement to newspapers and magazines, with both comparative strengths and weaknesses. Could we now see the start of a similar ‘citizen aid’ movement?

Of course the organisers are running into a number of logistical issues; e.g. having a number of participants arrested within a day on suspicion of terrorist activities is not auspicious. However, I still think this convoy might some day be seen as the start of a new era for the aid industry, in which big international and national aid organisations work side by side with citizen aid — and will be more stringently be held to new standards that will develop from successes in private aid activities. The only restraint for that to happen, large-scale logistics, seems to have been overcome.

Update (10 March 2009): the convoy has arrived in Gaza. Click here for an update.


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