Logistics is essential to the delivery of humanitarian aid. How can it help humanitarian operations to become more efficient, effective and environmentally friendly? Answers were provided at two important events in March involving representatives of the Center for Humanitarian Logistics and Regional Development (CHORD), which is jointly operated by KLU and HELP Logistics.
Prof. Maria Besiou, Dean of Research at KLU and Academic Director of CHORD, spoke at the European Humanitarian Forum on March 22. The event was organized by the European Commission and France as part of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Jonas Stumpf, Director of Global Programs at HELP Logistics and Operations Manager at CHORD, joined the academic round table at the 6th International Humanitarian City (IHC) Members Global Meeting in Dubai on March 17.
Logistics connects needs and supplies. What is your vision of logistics in humanitarian aid, Maria?
Maria Besiou: First, we need to stop thinking about disaster response and development as two separate things. Less developed countries continue to be harder-hit by disasters. So, disaster response should go hand in hand with sustainable economic and social development. Second, in countries that are more vulnerable to disasters, solid entry points (airports, seaports), road networks, warehouses, and infrastructure should be built before disaster strikes. This is how help can be delivered quickly. Third, I envision a stronger local market and professional local staff, achieved through education and training (localization). And last, when it comes to humanitarian aid, I envision more sharing of resources, more analysis of which models fit best under which scenarios. Who manages the aid? Who benefits and how much?
What key message did you share with your audience in Dubai, Jonas?
Jonas Stumpf: The good news is that, in the humanitarian context, logistics and supply chain management finally seem to be receiving the recognition they deserve. More than 80% of the roughly 500 experts that we surveyed for a CHORD study last year confirmed that their organizations consider supply chains and logistics to be important functions. This trend has certainly been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the supply chain disruptions that became very real for many of us. But even before that, we saw that the advocacy work done by HELP Logistics, the Global Logistics Cluster and others had begun to pay off.
Is this shift in mindset already reflected in a new, strong focus among organizations on efficient and sustainable supply chains?
Jonas Stumpf: Actually, that leads me to the not-so-good news … this new recognition alone won’t help us to overcome the tremendous challenges confronting the sector in times of ever-growing humanitarian needs, many of which remain unmet. For the years 2020 and 2021, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs financial tracking system shows funding gaps of 50%, which amount to roughly US$19 billion in unmet needs each year.
How can logistics and supply chain management help to close that gap?
Maria Besiou: Two aspects are essential to understanding how we can close the funding gap in humanitarian aid. First, three quarters of the total expenses can be found in the supply chain. This was revealed in our recent expenditure study on humanitarian operations carried out by five humanitarian organizations in 12 countries (2005-2018). In another study, we analyzed the return on investments made to strengthen the humanitarian supply chain. Here, we found that tremendous cost and time savings can be achieved if investments are made early enough before a disaster strikes and if they are made in a smart and comprehensive way. More concretely speaking, every dollar invested prior to a disaster can save seven dollars in the response phase. And, perhaps even more importantly, the response time can be cut by more than half.
Subsequently, the various stakeholders (humanitarian sector, private, public and academia) need to come together, share knowledge and practices, and take a holistic approach to the humanitarian aid system and its supply chains. We have to try to see how we can best create a positive and lasting impact to save more lives in the short run and reduce dependency and environmental damage in the long run.
How can academia support these efforts?
Jonas Stumpf: Researchers who are active in this field are often accused of not adding value by delivering impactful solutions. The academic sector could certainly improve in this regard. A better understanding of the local context, more focus on fields that can help save and improve lives, and closer collaboration with humanitarian actors are just a few strategies to consider. However, it’s not a one-way street.
For their part, practitioners need to more clearly express their needs and make efforts to translate theoretical solutions into practice. The Journal for Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management can serve as a great platform here. There is a specific section where practitioners can share their viewpoints on sector-specific problems and solutions. HELP Logistics and Emerald Publishing have agreed on a three-year sponsorship deal to make the journal fully Open Access as of 2023.