If we have learned anything from the last 3 years, it is that logistics has been the centre of the action during each of the crises we have experienced. The global pandemic and currently the European political situation, once again confirms that the supply chain has a great commitment to all emergency operations.
What is humanitarian logistics?
Humanitarian logistics focuses on the goods and equipment movement, the relocation of people affected by disasters, victims’ displacement, as well as aid, first responders and volunteers. These strategies cover more than two-thirds of emergency funds, thus highlighting the need for effective and efficient systems.
Humanitarian emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone. Therefore, how, and how quickly a response is generated are the most critical aspects.
Planning with agility and clarity in all aspects of the implementation process, flow control, efficient and profitable storage of goods and materials, as well as real-time information related between the point of origin to the point of consumption, are keys that can make a difference.
Humanitarian logistics can be considered very different from commercial logistics management. It is mainly because the situations come from different needs and demands, as well as different characteristics.
- In commercial supply chains, product demand is typically estimated using forecasting techniques, focused on past data that generates a history of demand. This makes it easy to eliminate the elements of uncertainty and it is possible to predict and anticipate the flow. Although forecasts are indeed becoming more and more complicated in today’s changing world, the truth is that we have strategies and technology that allow us to anticipate demand efficiently.
- The nature of humanitarian logistics demand is uncertain. At the time of a natural disaster, for example, the time, location, intensity of the disaster, and characteristics of the emergency are not known until after it occurs. So, the reaction is focused on adaptation and reaction to the fact. Adding to this sudden demand can be a lack of resources (e.g., vehicles, equipment, food and water supplies, and medical supplies); ground conditions after the disaster; the lack of human resources and reliable infrastructure and the lack of security of operations.
All the items listed above are serious challenges to the performance of any supply chain system, not just humanitarian logistics. In each of these situations, to make it feasible, the first thing that affects is the cost of the operation. For example, the lack of transport infrastructure forces the use of alternative and generally more expensive means such as helicopters and cargo planes, even in more primitive ways like animals.
The adaptability of humanitarian logistics strategies is a source of great learning. They allow us to study strategies to face and manage the supply chain in the face of unprecedented disruption.
Today, with the Digital Revolution we are experiencing, technology is an essential part as a facilitator of strategies and opening possibilities for action. Commercial logistics is in full digitization, humanitarian logistics is no exception.
Technologies for logistics and humanitarian aid
3D printing and Drones:
Two of the technologies that can help manage the impact of an unprecedented situation are 3D printing and drones. Together they can be used to facilitate access to supplies, increase supply chain flexibility and be more efficient in the distribution process.
- 3D printing is currently used in Kenya for prosthetic printing, in places where it is not possible to provide this type of care.
- On the other hand, there are drones that have already been used in New Guinea and Rwanda to transport blood samples for testing and monitoring of tuberculosis cases in areas of difficult access. We are still a long way off, but in time, drones could change the global transportation industry.
- Drones with built-in camera equipment have been used to create updated maps after a flood or as a source of real information to assess supply routes and safe zones to prevent future natural disasters.
Blockchain for logistics emergencies and humanitarian aid
One of the problems of humanitarian aid is to ensure that the monetary and other resources generated by the millions of people around the world who donate to humanitarian organizations are applied efficiently to the purpose that is promised. Being able to ensure its application clearly and transparently encourages more donations and more help. Here technology can also help us, specifically, the application of Blockchain and its Smart Contracts.
Blockchain is an alternative to guarantee the traceability of shipments and the transparency of humanitarian organizations involved in emergency efforts.
The use of smart contracts, which are executed automatically, without human intervention, promotes transparency in contracts and the movement of money between all parties.
Large organizations such as the United Nations (UN) or the World Health Organization (WHO), which often take the lead in organizing relief efforts, can initiate the development of use cases for humanitarian logistics and include manufacturers, carriers, other logistics providers, banks, and other partners in the blockchain network.
- Oxfam’s Unblocked Cash project. Unblocked Cash is a blockchain-based Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) solution that enables much faster, less expensive, and more transparent financial aid for relief efforts. It’s scaling around the world, starting in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
Facing and managing abrupt changes and interruptions in the supply chain can now be considered the new norm, following other disruptive forces such as climate change or the constant financial and political crises currently taking place in Europe and the world.
To do this, we not only have to focus on preparation and mobilization to respond; it is necessary to continue with the efforts of standardization, innovation, collaboration, and digitization. These factors strengthen organizations, supply chains and societies to manage current and future disruptions.