Humanitarian Theory And Practise In Disaster Commerce Essay

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Whenever a crisis happens in a country, humanitarian relief in the form of food, water, clothing, shelter, medical aid and other services will be offered by different countries to the affected country or community. This humanitarian aid is provided typically in response to disasters, natural or man-made, which affects large numbers of people. Since the aid comes from different countries across the world, in different forms using various channels, they are to be managed in such a manner so as to ensure that all that has been offered reaches the affected and needy in the right time. As disasters quite often strike without any warning, the relief has to reach the affected people as early as possible. Time is of great essence in such situations. Supply Chain Management (SCM) is a method of managing different interlinked services or businesses involved in the production of an ultimate goods or service targeting the consumer. Supply chain management takes within its sweep, the movement of raw materials, and end-product, from the place of origin to the destination and also the storage of raw materials and the finished products. While Supply Chain Management focuses on managing and co-ordination of a bunch of interlinked businesses or companies thriving for a common cause, logistics deals with managing in each such business or company, the flow of goods and services from the place of origin to the destination which includes transportation, inventory, storing, packing, handling and so on (Beamon and Balcik, 2008). However humanitarian Supply chain management and humanitarian logistics are often interchangeably used in studies and in literature (Ertem et al., 2010). These innovative techniques like logistics and Supply chain management when put in service while dealing with disasters and providing humanitarian relief will prove to be of great assistance.

Scope and importance of Supply chain Management in delivery of humanitarian aid

In the present international scenario it has become more of a duty than an obligation for countries to provide humanitarian aid to country hit by any disaster. But the activities of each country or organization are often considered as separate activities rather than connected. Hence literally there is no connection between the activities done at different stages in providing humanitarian relief. This often results in large amount of wastage in the total humanitarian aid as far as actual aid reaching the appropriate and needy is concerned. In fact each aspect of delivery activity should be viewed as a part of a continuous process. Only then effective delivery and utilization of aid can be ensured. Subjecting the entire humanitarian aid provided following a disaster to the modern day technique of supply chain management will help to manage the resources and the crisis itself more effectively. Because of several reasons, supply chain management is of great importance in disaster relief. Firstly, because of its effectiveness and speedy response to humanitarian crisis by providing food, water, shelter and so on. Secondly, the most expensive part of every humanitarian relief program i.e., procurement and transportation of emergency material, can be done in a most cost-effective and efficient manner. Thirdly, a dedicated department will keep data regarding the day to day affairs of the program including that of the resources. This can be analyzed to provide a post-event understanding and can be utilized for future programs as well. It is an undisputed fact that no single organization has sufficient resource to effectively respond to a major disaster (Balcik et al., 2008).

Critical Success factors

The supply chain management is nowadays a common technique used by many companies and organizations. The same technique can be used in providing humanitarian relief, using some slight modifications to suit different scenarios. But to make sure that the task being undertook is being carried out properly and efficiently, certain key factors are to be focused on. These key factors determine the success of delivery mechanism of humanitarian relief and are commonly called as the critical success factors. When these factors are properly managed and maintained, they will have a significant impact in the outcome of the task undertaken or the success of an organization.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is one of the important factors which determine the success in the delivery of humanitarian aid. Strategic planning calls for taking important decisions with respect to transportation, ware housing, distribution and so on. The political and economical environment of the country or community where the crisis happened is also to be considered while developing strategy. Strategic planning helps to identify the assets and helps to understand strengths and weaknesses of the work force under different circumstances. While planning strategies, a long term approach should be adopted. The planning done following the Asian Tsunami was inadequate and inefficient and it resulted in the failure of the execution of the plans and the delivery of humanitarian relief (Fritz Institute, 2005). Strategic planning helps the aid agencies to properly manage and transport the aid materials in the form of food, clothes and so on. It will assist the aid agencies to pre-position the emergency materials which in turn will help to provide the same to the affected people at the earliest possible instance. The advantage of pre-positioning of emergency material was shown to the outside world during the Tsunami that hit Indonesia. Another way by which the aid agencies will be benefited by strategic planning is that it makes inventory management more effective. Important aspect for ensuring the success of strategic planning is that all the organizations or countries functioning under the supply chain management have to co-operate to the maximum extend and have to follow the strategies and guidelines instead of competing against each other.

Inventory management

Inventory management is concerned with the planning, control and co-ordination of the flow of emergency materials provided by different organizations and countries as a part of humanitarian relief program. Inventory management includes managing the existing materials in the organization and also the in-country sources. The quantity and quality of provisions needed, the time period in which the provisions are to be supplied and how they can be accessed all are to be planned and coordinated. Assessing the required volume of goods and supplies is of much importance as the whole system works based on it. The inventory management in delivery of humanitarian aid is different from that of commercial supply chain. When the former mainly focuses on time bound supply of emergency materials, the latter gives importance to cost-effective supply of products. Organizations set up mainly for the purpose of providing humanitarian relief will be much benefited by an effective inventory management. By adopting pre-positioning of goods and by maintaining a fully stocked warehouses in important locations and by keeping at its disposal transportation facilities, they will be able to respond to crisis situations very quickly and effectively (Matthews, 2005). During the first year of Afghanistan war, there was immense scarcity for food. Foreseeing the onset of winter, the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC) pre-positioned the food in the central mountain throughout the winter season thereby reducing the need of the villagers to travel for food. Humanitarian organization like World Vision is well known for its method of prepositioning of stocks at key areas and supplying them in crisis situations efficiently. Thus inventory management in supply chain system assists organizations to fight crisis effectively.

Transportation planning

Transportation and distribution of humanitarian aid are the key elements in disaster relief. Equally important are the mode of transportation of the aid, its scheduling, capacity utilization and maintenance of goods and resources (Pettit and Beresford, 2009). Almost all modes of transportations like air, water and road will have to be availed while engaging in humanitarian relief program. It depends more on the affected area and its geography. Transportation and distribution in its full range of activities include contracting services, meeting expenses as freight and other charges, brokering and tendering, cost minimization etc. These difficulties and expenses can be minimized if long term humanitarian relief program is already in existence. When different agencies are functioning as separate entities for providing humanitarian aid, then there will be competition among them in procuring the available transportation services and this will result in increase in cost or fare as the demand for their services increases. Organizations which took part in providing humanitarian relief during the Asian Tsunami of 2004 had to face such a situation when the cost for transportation was increased by local transport providers on account of competition among these organizations (Fritz Institute, 2005). This situation can be avoided by utilizing the supply chain management technique where these distinct organizations will be coordinating each other and thereby avoiding competition. Under the supply chain system, a particular organization involved in the activity can be selected for transportation of a particular resource based on the strengths and weakness of that particular organization. During the flood in Mozambique in 2000, the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC) was able to rescue about 16,500 people who got stranded on islands by charting flights. This is one of the realistic examples where proper transportation and coordination finds its application in providing humanitarian aid. The coordination of military was also received by UNJLC.

Capacity Planning

Capacity planning is a main issue that has to be dealt with at the time of crisis, irrespective of the fact whether the demand is short term or long term. It will definitely have a bearing upon the number of warehouses and distribution centers required for storing the provisions and also its capacity and also upon the vehicles to be allotted, equipments to be provided and also the number of employees to be appointed. Issues relating to capacity planning can be solved to a great extent by focusing on key factors like material and human resource management, warehouses, transportation and optimum use of available capacity. With the system of supply chain, these issues can be handled effectively. With many organizations coming under the supply chain system, material and human resource can be procured and managed efficiently. Collaboration with commercial organizations will help to solve the problem of warehouses, transport and scarcity of storage capacity. The World Food Program (WFP) partnered with commercial organization, TPG for using their off-peak capacity (Cottrill, 2004). Planning capacity enlargement also includes the ability of airports and sea ports to handle and accommodate relief vehicles. Airport capacity, ability to accommodate certain kind of aircrafts, refueling facility, helicopter support, cargo handling facilities etc. are important factors that are to be considered while planning capacity. Similarly, the capacity of harbors and sea ports are also areas of concern that are to be addressed. But with different organizations operating under the supply chain system, the number of aircrafts and ships can be reduced and their timings can be scheduled and controlled. Moreover, airports and harbors belonging to a participating country can be utilized to extend the capacity. The port operations, during the Balkan crisis in 1999, were shifted from Macedonia to Italy, Albania and Greece to overcome capacity problem.

Information Management

The benefits of supply chain management during humanitarian relief program will be better served if it is supported by information technology. Information management includes dissemination sharing, storing and analyzing of information. This will help to connect with various service providers and also participating organizations and thereby making management more efficient and effective. An efficient information and communication systems are very important in controlling relief operations (Pettit and Beresford, 2009). Information management assists in coordinating the activities and allows the supply chain to function smoothly. The management of information is considered as the key factor in determining the success of crisis management (Long and Wood, 2005). Information Technology systems provide accurate information, measurement of performance and control and thereby assist in controlling relief operations. Certain supply chain management software have been developed that will help support humanitarian relief programs. These kinds of software can track the relief commodities and ensure their effective delivery. There are software that can connect warehouses, distributing centers and even vehicles thereby providing direct control over the transportation, maintenance, storing and delivery of relief commodities. With the aid of these software and the information received, the volume of stock resources, their locations, volume of resources in transit, the volume of resources that will be needed etc. can be analyzed with precision. This kind of information analysis helps to understand the ground reality quickly and can take necessary steps in case of any short comings, thereby allowing the supply chain function more effectively.

Human Resource Management

The manner in which human resource is managed plays an important role in the success of humanitarian relief programs. The local people will not be trained and equipped to deal with such situations. Quite often effective response to such disaster is jeopardized by shortage of trained personnel. So the services of people like trained personnel, logistic experts, doctors etc. will have to be availed to combat disaster. Such trained and skilled experts can effectively do the job within the given time period. When different organizations work under a supply chain system, all the available man power and human resources can be coordinated in such a way that the weakness of an organization can be converted into the strength of the supply chain system. When there is shortage of trained personnel, it can be immediately addressed by supply chain management by calling for trained personnel from organizations which have manpower at its disposal. In the process, the wastage of human resource can also be reduced to a great extent. Organizations set up for providing humanitarian relief following disasters will be highly benefited by supply chain management. Whatever short comings they have can be rectified by resorting to supply chain management. Trained and skilled personnel who come under the supply chain work collectively as a team with common objective, it will make delivery of humanitarian aid more effective.


Collaboration makes a big positive difference in the efficiency of supply chain system. Collaboration is the combining of the best capabilities of various agencies. Resorting to collaboration within the supply chain humanitarian aid will benefit in many ways. It helps to build up a close supplier relation. Another advantage is that often large quantity of resources will have to be purchased during the crisis situation. At these times, collaborative bidding helps to lower the purchase price. Apart from purchase, collaboration can be brought out in all stages of supply chain system. Aid agencies often collaborate with commercial establishments with a view to improve their effectiveness especially of their distribution network. Red Cross also collaborates with commercial organizations in many crisis situations. Collaboration also helps to improve capacity of warehouses, storage centers and so on. The greatest advantage of collaboration within supply chain humanitarian aid is that the commercial organization with which collaboration has been made can provide resources which the humanitarian aid agency lacks. Studies over the years has proven that whenever there has been collaboration within supply chain humanitarian aid, the delivery of humanitarian aid to affected people has been effective. Other than commercial organizations, collaboration can be set up with local authority of the affected area, the military, the navy, air force and also with other aid agencies. Collaborations can be made ad-hoc in the event of disaster or can be on a long term basis. Aid agencies having long term collaborations can respond to emergent situations more effectively.

Barriers and Solutions

The supply chain management during humanitarian relief program will have to face many obstacles. The problems faced by any of the aid agency within the chain are to be considered as a problem of the whole supply chain system. The repercussions created could be large enough that it will disturb and may derail the whole supply chain. The mangers involved in managing the supply chain will have to find solutions for the smooth functioning of the system.


The most complex and challenging obstacle in humanitarian aid program is uncertainty. It is impossible to predict the time and location where the disaster may strike. Most of the time there will not be any indications at all prior to the disaster and hence quick response is warranted in such situations. The magnitude of the disaster, the area and the number of people it will affect, the quantity of aid needed, the period for which aid will have to be supplied, how to procure aid etc. cannot foreseen (Van der Vorst and Beulens, 2002:424). The storage of resources and their transport will also be uncertain. Even if the aid organizations have stock in their ware houses, how much of stock are to be moved to affected area will be uncertain at the initial stage as information received regarding the crisis will be very scarce. Availability of trained persons is another uncertainty.

Another uncertainty is with regard to the quality and standard of resource provided by the aid agencies or commercial agencies. These different facets of uncertainty dampen the commencement of humanitarian relief program. By resorting to Supply Chain Management, these issues can be solved. Collaboration is one such method which can deal with supply uncertainty. Through the collaborating partners, the quality, quantity and period of supply etc. can be ascertained. Military partners can deal with the issue of transportation of resources as an alternative medium in contingency situations. By focusing and investing more on distribution process and thereby creating parallel delivery methods, parallel logistic methods and process, the uncertainty regarding distribution can be reduced. Use of information tools and the sharing of information also help to minimize supply uncertainty. There should be a single authority as the focal point of the supply chain and all the partners should obey the authority. They should coordinate their work with other partners. The relief operation following the 2001 Gujarat earthquake is a classic example on how uncertainty can be got over with the aid of Supply Chain Management. The humanitarian organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) which arrived in Gujarat, in India following the devastating earth quake in 2001, had to face many uncertainties. The death toll was not certain, the food supply was also uncertain and there was lack of communication system and information transfer. These are the important factors an aid agency will have to rely on to set up supply chain. The IFCR has a stand by team known as Field Assessment Coordination team (FACT) for evaluating the existing condition. They were able to collaborate with other agencies immediately after the disaster. A logistic system was set up and a supply chain management team was established. Collaborating with the local suppliers and transportation, the supply of resources was carried forward. In the beginning the agency had to commence their operation virtually without any fund. But IFRC set up a global supply chain and was able to charter 45 planes, amass about 2,50,000 blankets, 34,000 tents within 30 days and were able to secure the assistance of 3,00,000 people and was able to amass a fund of 23 million Euro. This whole supply chain management was coordinated and managed by a team of 6 members, in Geneva.


When a disaster strikes, quite often, whatever infrastructure that was there in the affected area would have been destroyed leaving behind nothing for the aid agencies to build upon (Gooley, 1999:82). The infrastructure whatever left will not be able to accommodate the large number of refugees and the fleet of vehicles of aid agencies (Moody, 2003:132). This will have a telling blow on the delivery of aid materials immediately following the disaster. With the help of logistics and supply chain, by understanding the condition of the roads and by finding out alternative routes or by alternative methods like air, rail or water, the delivery of aid materials can be ensured. The lack of warehouses and distributing centers can be overcome by collaboration. Infrastructures owned by commercial organizations and military can be used under the collaboration method. With the aid of Supply Chain Management, the deficiency in infrastructure can also be addressed by buying goods from local suppliers and by increasing the frequency of supply to the affected areas.

The lack of infrastructure was one of the greatest issues faced by aid agencies following the Asian Tsunami of 2004. The extent of disaster itself was the main difficulty in managing humanitarian relief operation and providing aid. The infrastructures were destroyed and nothing virtually remained to begin the build-up work. International aid agencies with the help of UNJLC were able to set up supply chain management and were able to coordinate other aid agencies. Collaboration with commercial agencies, military and other agencies were set up. Fund was not a problem for the managers since huge amount of money was poured in from all corners of the globe. But the proper channelizing of the received fund was a real headache. But with the aid of supply chain management, the humanitarian relief operation was carried out effectively.


Lack of communication between the aid agencies in a humanitarian relief operation is a major obstacle affecting the effectiveness of such operation. One of the basic issues with regard to communication is the language barrier. Aid agencies and collaborating partners from different countries will be participating in the relief operation. Their languages and word definitions will be different. Communication problem also arises on account of poor coordination and poor information sharing both at the intra-agency as well as inter-agency levels (Sowinski, 2003:20). Certain principles of supply chain management like using Logistic Information System and common database for a standardized transfer of information can be applied in such situation. The logistic information system in turn uses bar codes and frequencies. Problem of poor information sharing can be redressed by providing common database. Issues on account of poor coordination between agencies can also be mitigated by the use of common database. These technologies help to shorten the language barriers. Thus issues relating to communication can be reduced to a great extent. Lack of institutional learning is another reason for problems relating to communication as the employees of the agencies often fail to understand how the system functions. This can be rectified by providing standardized training to the employees (Thomas et al, 2003:7).

Earmarking of Funds

Another major obstacle that the managers in humanitarian relief operation will have to overcome is the earmarking of funds. The present scenario is that the donor who provides funds for humanitarian relief program decides how and where the aid is to be distributed (Wassenhove, 2006). Neither the affected community nor the aid agencies will have any say regarding these crucial aspects. The donor always wants the whole fund to be utilized for purchasing aid materials (Oloruntoba and Gray, 2009; Wassenhove, 2006; Kovacs and Spen, 2007). Often the need for an organizational structure and infrastructure is forgotten. This results in want of capacity for warehouse and distribution centers and also results in lack of communication system and information sharing. Which means, even if aid is available to meet the needs of the affected people, because of the limitations in distribution process, the managers of the agency will not be able to deliver the aid in time. Such thoughtless earmarking of fund by the donors also result in lack of spare parts and services need for vehicles involved in transportation of aid as well. Utilization of humanitarian relief fund often gets tangled with foreign policy there by defeating the very meaning of humanitarian relief funding. This in fact is a political and administrative problem. The independence of humanitarian aid has been lost on account of political objectives. One technique under the Supply Chain management to cope up with this issue is collaboration with partners and convincing them to fill gaps in funding. They can be convinced to donate fund for the key areas in the system to which no funds have been allotted. Supply chain management also helps to avoid competition for funds by the partners and promote coordination among them.


Various research work done and from direct information received from disaster affected region and affected people, it is very obvious that supply chain management plays an important role in responding to humanitarian crisis immediately and effectively. The analysis of the data collected following each disaster can be utilized to deal with future crisis more efficiently and effectively. It is a well accepted fact that a single agency will not be able to deal with a humanitarian crisis all on its own. Preparedness and use of more and more technologies will assist the employees to face unprecedented situations more effectively. Providing proper training on an international level and setting up branches in more locations with trained persons will be of great advantage. De-centralized supply chain is another method to manage the supply chain more smoothly.