Humanitarian Logistics - Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters

Martin Christopher needs no introduction, and when we were looking for titles to use in developing a post graduate course in humanitarian logistics, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book with Christopher and Peter Tatham as editors.

Text books on the topic of humanitarian logistics have only recently started appearing and there are still only a few to consider.

The editors have convinced 22 academia and practitioners from the humanitarian sector to contribute 14 chapters of highly relevant contents to the book. The authors include the seasoned and well-known Mike Whiting – who has taken part in humanitarian response to Indian Ocean tsunamis, hurricane Katrina and various other disasters – as well as Martijn Blansjaar, who is head of Logistics and Supply of Oxfam.

The book starts with the important question of what humanitarians can learn from business logistics, and vice versa. There is much merit in starting with this question and the authors provide interesting background on how articles on supply chain management risk have grown significantly from 1998 to 2009. They introduce World Vision, Oxfam and CARE as some of the main nongovernmental organisation (NGO) players and explain the transformation needed in moving from disaster relief to development as well as moving between business and humanitarian supply chains.

The second chapter covers the impact of funding systems on humanitarian operations and explains that funding systems typically involve multiple stakeholders with diverse objectives. Funds to deal with the effects of disasters normally came from public or official sources and governments consequently have a strong influence over the sector.

However, recent trends show more contributions from foundations, donors and the private sector. Martijn Blansjaar and Charl van der Merwe of Oxfam cover the importance of information technology in humanitarian supply chains in Chapter 3 and they share some opportunities and challenges in the development of the Helios information system developed for the sector. The Fritz Institute launched the initiative, which is currently managed under the Helios Foundation. Humanitarian logistics metrics are vital to ensure we manage correctly and the fourth chapter deals with measurement from an academic, practitioner and recipient’s perspective. The Sphere Standards were developed as policy for the NGOs in the sector and it could be seen as a good start for the development of a standardised measurement policy.

The UN is accepted as providing the lead in co-ordinating relief response and its cluster approach is proving to be a great success.The background and perspectives on this approach are discussed in Chapter 5 and include a description of the cluster approach in general and the role of the logistics cluster in particular. Global clusters were developed in 11 sectors with the logistics cluster chaired by the World Food Programme (WFP).

The next chapter shares lessons learnt from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and in many ways this disaster provided new directions for appropriate emergency response.

Much has been achieved in disaster planning and preparedness and the implementation of early warning systems since that time.

This is followed by an African perspective on the journey to humanitarian supply network management by Professor Paul Buatsi of the Graduate School of Management in Accra, Ghana. Challenges of humanitarian logistics in Africa include poor infrastructure, lack of investment in technology and communications, lack of co-ordination and collaboration as well as inadequate training.

Humanitarian logistics in the United States with focus on supply systems for responding to domestic disasters is covered in Chapter 8 with specific reference to the Florida Division of Emergency Management as well as the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Deborah Ellis shares a case study in improving access to essential medicine in the ninth chapter and an interesting discussion on professionalism in the humanitarian logistics sector follows in Chapter 10. The authors discuss the concept of professionalism and how humanitarian logistics can develop and adapt best practice from commercial and military approaches.

This leads in the next chapter to a cultural perspective on humanitarian logistics and the following two chapters covering the important topic of combining humanitarian logistics and military supply chain capabilities. There seems to be general agreement to co-operate with military forces but it is important to keep the political agenda separate from emergency relief.

The final chapter concludes the book with a discussion on developments in humanitarian logistics and refers to relationship building, better co-ordination, use of technology and sustainability.

The topics cover most of the important issues in humanitarian logistics and provide a comprehensive overview on strategic level without going into detail.

There is very little that could be changed to improve the relevance although the editors might consider adding a chapter on prepositioning network design that could assist the respective NGOs, governments, agencies and other stakeholders in humanitarian response to prepositioning relief and other materials closer to the affected areas.

I realise that it is not possible (or advisable) to cover functional matters in a title that is positioned on strategic and structural levels but maybe we could convince the editors to start working on a similar title that will address humanitarian logistics functions such as transport, warehousing, inventory and procurement with specific focus on the peculiar characteristics, challenges and possible solutions in this important sector.

I enjoyed reading this book from cover to cover and I strongly recommend the title for all logistics professionals serving and working in the humanitarian sector or for those who aspire to deployment in this exciting operational theatre. This book will be compulsory reading for our students in the post graduate course in humanitarian logistics.

Written by: Martin Christopher and Peter Tathamp Publisher: Kogan Page ISBN: 978-0-7494-6246-8 Pages: 270

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