Reducing Disaster risk is everybody’s business and needs everyone’s participation & investment – civil, society, professional networks as well as municipal & national governments

  • Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary –general on the occasion of the international day for disaster reduction (curbing disaster risk, 2010)


Disasters are everywhere. Disasters take place to test the preparedness of human mankind. Weather related disasters steadily increase, predominantly due to floods & storms. Flooding alone accommodates 47% of all weather related disasters spanning from 1995-2015, by & large affecting 2.3 billion people out of which 95% live in Asia (Wallemacq 2016)

Death tolls form flooding have increased manifold. Next to china (2,274 million), India is the 2nd highest country where 85 million were affected and 62,325 people faced death between 1995-2015 (Wallemacq 2016). The onset of a disaster is very quick and it exercises lots of pressure on the actors. Post Asian tsunamis, the humanitarian logistics field has gathered lots of attention from both academic field & from the practitioners

Humanitarian logisticians have a difficult job. They must deliver relief items and resources into all disasters everywhere on the planet from a standing point within hours and days of the crisis. Generally, those providing humanitarian logistics services take the brunt of the criticism ad these problems are indeed due to supply chain failure. From a donor and public point of view, when the fund is raised, people immediately raise the question, where is the problem? This article attempts to identify the different aspect of supply chain and the funding related to the supply chain.

Humanitarian Logistics:

Humanitarian Logistics refers to the management of the disaster relief supply chain and is defined by Thomas and Kopczak as:

“ The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information from the point of origin to the point of consumption for the purpose of alleviating the suffering of vulnerable people.

Humanitarian Logistics is quite challenging as it is entirely different from the commercial supply chain. When a disaster strikes any place, the conventional distribution is destroyed and the only modern distribution such as air drops can be used to reach affected areas & the people (Maspero & Hittman 2008)

Difference between a commercial supply chain and a humanitarian relief chain

Criteria Commercial Supply Chain Humanitarian Relief Chain
Demand Pattern Relatively stable, predictable demand patterns, demand occur from fixed locations in set quantities Demand is generated from random events that are unpredictable in terms of timing, location, type and size. Demand requirements are estimated after they are needed, based on an assessment of disaster characteristics.
Lead time Lead time determined by the supplier-manufacturer- DC- retailer chain Approximately zero lead times requirements (Zero time) between the occurrence of the demand and the need for the demand ?, but the actual lead time is still determined by the chain of material flow
Distribution Network Configuration Well-defined methods for determining the number and locations of distribution centres. Challenging due to the nature of the unknowns (locations, type and size of events, politics, and culture). And “last mile” considerations
Inventory Control Utilizes well-defined methods for determining inventory levels based on lead time, demand and target customer service levels. Inventory control is challenging due to the high variations in lead times, demands, and demand locations.
Information System Generally well-defined methods using advanced technology Information is often unreliable, incomplete or non-existent
Strategic Goals Typically to produce high quality products at low cost to maximize profitability and achieve high customer satisfaction Minimize loss of life and alleviate suffering
Performance Measurement System Traditionally focused on response performance measures such as maximizing profit or minimizing costs Primary focus on output performance measures, such as the time required to respond to a disaster or ability to meet the needs of the customer.
What is “Demand”? Products Supplies and people

(Source : BM Beamon 2008 )

Humanitarian logistics in the disaster management cycle:

The operations of humanitarian logistics can be divided into 4 distinct phases: preparedness, Response, recovery and mitigation (Haddow and Bullock, 2004).During the operations, there may be an overlap between activities from different phases (Asian Development bank, 2004). Humanitarian supply chains must provide supplies to beneficiaries in each of these phases (Kovacs and Spens, 2007)


In the commercial supply chain, the focus is to deliver the product or service at a specified cost, time & quantity in order to be profitable, whereas humanitarian logistics focus is placed on timely & relevant aid to the beneficiaries. The disaster can be either a man-made disaster or a natural distaer. When a distaer strikes, the actors face a sudden pressure and the aid required is extradionarily large (Wassenhove & Martinez). Evan a disaster can be a sudden onset (or) slow onset. The main aim of any disaster relief operation is to relieve the people from suffering (Tomasini & Wassenhove 2009). Moreover, the demand & supply is unknown as the onset of the disaster is very quick for which the relief operation can be targeted at random events given the constraint; lead time is zero between the demand & supply (Beamon 2008). Swift response signifies building a supply chain quickly.


A standard response includes determination of needs, call for appeal, procurement, and transportation, set up of distribution points and hand out to beneficiaries. This standard response can’t be successful if the proper coordination is not achieved and it is not free from deficiencies as it might create problem in problems in many areas. If proper coordination is not met, duplication is prone to occur and results in bullwhip effect which was evident from Gujarat earthquake response in 2001.The response system receives unsolicited response which is usually the end of life products and at times it may turn as a unwanted donations. In fact during the Bangladesh earthquake, the unwanted supply clocked 95% whereas during Gujarat earthquake it was substantially brought down to 5% (chomilier et al 2003). The unwanted supplies hinder the space at airport & warehouses (Murray 2003). Aid stem from many countries which has their own labelling in different forms and languages. The lack of standard labelling procedure is one of the tremendous problems faced by the aid agencies (Murray2003). Standardisation is the essential for supply chain excellence. Sphere standards are the answer for standardization across the humanitarian organization.  The humanitarian logistics is further complicated if the sudden onset is set by the military.

Humanitarian organization adopts a participatory style of decision making but is less hierarchical (Gourlay 2000). The strategic goal of any humanitarian logistics is to ensure that it reduces cost, capital & improve service (Ballou 2004). Every humanitarian logistics is based on 4 principles a. Humanity b. Impartiality c. Independence d. Neutrality (Sphere handbook, 2011)

Principles of Humanitarian Logistics (Sphere Handbook)


Helping the people to return to the normal condition is an important aspect. Every recovery process is a chance to build back better which can ensure for better preparedness. Aid the communities to return to their conditions prior to the disaster. These activities may include reconstructing houses, buildings, distributing supplies for livelihood building and training them which may be carried out over a period of months to years. The success of these activities specifically depends on the cultural, social, economic and geographical conditions of the affected communities (Murray 2003). During Indian Ocean Tsunami, humanitarian organizations supported fishermen affected by distributing new boats and fishing equipment.


It involves in reducing the impact of disaster caused. According to the vulnerability of the community these may include activities pertaining to planting mangroves to protect cyclones against cyclones, reinforcing buildings and constructing effectively support these affected people, training is very much essential on these aspects and revenue generation and utilization is very important.

The principal source of revenue to Non-profit organization happens through charitable donations from individuals at the outset, corporations, in kind donations and larger portion flows through the government funding (Moore 2000). Non-profit organizations receive funds from donors who don’t expect any monetary benefits out of it (Henderson et al). At the same time, the donors insist that their funds should be used to help the victims and not to be used for training the people and back office operations (Murray, 2005). However, Wassenhove (2012) argues that every disaster response is an opportunity for improved performance

The main focus should be emphasised on transportation. Without transportation, there is no aid. According to Thomas (2003) logistics serves as a bridge between disaster preparedness and response. Establishing a reliable transportation route becomes very difficult when the demand location is unknown. Reliable transportation is further complicated in the presence of different topography and the country infrastructure. Success for NPO should be measured by how effectively and efficiently they meet the needs of their constituencies ( Kaplan 2001).

Donor Funding:

Centralized data is not readily avaialble which would result in demand and supply uncertainty(Tomasini and Wassenhove, 2009). Demand uncertainty need to be anticipated as it may avoid disruptions and bottleneck in the filed. Demand is much more amplified when the victims create multiple records for receiving the aid multiple times which was pretty common in nepal earthquake. Donors generosity is difficult to predict and in the absence of centralized data, it becomes much more complicated to match the demand and supply. In tune with this , stapleton et al.,(2010) feels private doantions in response to immediate appeals for funding following a disaster are directly influenced by the level of publicity the disaster receives. According to the report, the response effort for the Indian Ocean Tsunami was funded to the tune of 475 percent when the comapred to the djibouti crisis which received the fund to the tune of 39 percent (World Disaster report 2006) Jhare and Heigh examine the link between the funding and the humanitarian response supply chain. The key to improving the effectiveness of funding, it rest in greater response  prepardness overtime. After the indian ocean tsunami many corporations tried to estimate how much they should donate. According to Jahre and heigh(2008)When looking at a supply chain funding, it is important to understand that responding organizations supply to and generally run not one but three supply chain :

  1. The permanent supply chain :

Permannent supply chain requires infrastructure in the form of office, depots, warehouses for prepositioning stock. Process development where common roles, actions and responsibilties are described. It receives long and short term funds

  1. The emergency supply chain :

Based on the available resource resource, specialised teama re set up. It may include mobilization of resources; custom clearnace and helicopter operations. It receives untied short term

  1. The project supply chain:

Project supply chain takes off during the recovery phase of a disaster and it is essentially managed set of resources, generally predictable and stable, but requires local presence. It receives tied or united long or short term .

The fund is very much inevitable for building the supply chain but the quantum of fund required may vary. The humanitarian agencies should make considerable effort in sharing the information to donor regarding their investment, how best it is utilized and what challenges they faced in building the supply chain.Though funding is one important factor in building the supply chain, but without the effort of all particpants in the supply chain, the disaster can’t  be managed well enough.  

Implication :

When compared to the commerical supply chain , humanitarian supply chain is very important. People who are working with the humanitarian aid should approach the victims with the sphere standards and a change in donor beahvior is required as majority of the disaster response is based on donor’s fund.

References :

  1. Ballou, R. H. (2007).Business logistics/supply chain management: planning, organizing, and controlling the supply chain. Pearson Education India.
  2. Beamon, B. M., & Balcik, B. (2008). Performance measurement in humanitarian relief chains.International Journal of Public Sector Management21(1), 4-25.
  3. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNODRR), The human cost of weather-related disasters, 1995–2015, 2015, online.
  4. Chomilier, B., Samii, R., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2003). The central role of supply chain management at IFRC.Forced Migration Review18(2), 15-16.
  5. Gourlay, C. (2000). Partners apart: managing civil-military co-operation in humanitarian interventions. InDisarmament forum (Vol. 3, No. 2000, p. 36).
  6. Jahre, M., & Heigh, I. (2008, January). Does the current constraints in funding promote failure in humanitarian supply chains?. In Supply Chain Forum: An International Journal (Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 44-54). Taylor & Francis.
  7. Kaplan, R. S. (2001). Strategic performance measurement and management in Nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit management and Leadership11(3), 353-370.
  8. Kovács, G., & Spens, K. M. (2007). Humanitarian logistics in disaster relief operations. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management37(2), 99-114.
  9. Kovács, G., & Spens, K. M. (2011). Humanitarian logistics and supply chain management: the start of a new journal. Journal of humanitarian logistics and supply chain management1(1), 5-14.
  10. Maspero, E. L., & Ittmann, H. W. (2008). Rise of humanitarian logistics.
  11. Moore, S., Eng, E., & Daniel, M. (2003). International NGOs and the role of network centrality in humanitarian aid operations: a case study of coordination during the 2000 Mozambique floods. Disasters27(4), 305-318.
  12. Murray, S. (2005). How to deliver on the promises: supply chain logistics: humanitarian agencies are learning lessons from business in bringing essential supplies to regions hit by the tsunami. Financial Times7(05), 9.
  13. Pedraza Martinez, A., Stapleton, O., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2010). Using OR to support humanitarian operations: Learning from the Haiti earthquake.
  14. Stapleton, O., Van Wassenhove, L. N., & Tomasini, R. (2010, January). The challenges of matching corporate donations to humanitarian needs and the role of brokers. In Supply Chain Forum: An International Journal (Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 42-53). Taylor & Francis.
  15. Thomas, A. (2003). Humanitarian Logistics, Enabling Disaster Response, The Fritz Institute.
  16. Thomas, A. S., & Kopczak, L. R. (2005). From logistics to supply chain management: the path forward in the humanitarian sector. Fritz Institute15, 1-15.
  17. Tomasini, R. M., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2009). From preparedness to partnerships: case study research on humanitarian logistics. International Transactions in Operational Research16(5), 549-559.
  18. World Health Organization. (2006).The world health report: 2006: working together for health.

Contributed by –

Dr. Karpagam T

(Director, Academics- ISBR)


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