Fast Aid

December 19th, 2013 - Overcoming logistical challenges during aid and relief operations.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippine regions in November, providing food, clean water and shelter remained top priorities for the international relief effort.

Governments from countries including Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S., all sent vital supplies as did international organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations World Food Program.

But the logistical challenges of getting the aid to the right people remained high in this devastated country. Blocked roads, unusable airports and lack of available transport all risked hampering the humanitarian relief effort.

« The biggest challenge was finding the right resources, » says Basile Ricard, SDV general manager of operations in the Philippines and one of six SDV staff working in Cebu and Tacloban immediately after the typhoon. « All the relief organizations needed trucks, boats and space on planes at the same time. »

SDV worked to support the Australian government in getting part of its over $30 million aid package to the Philippines. One of the first priorities was to establish a field hospital with surgical capability next to Tacloban airport, says Ricard. The hospital, designed to treat 200 people a day, needed a staff of 60 doctors and nurses as well as equipment and medicines. The aid arrived in three C 13 Hercules aircraft rotating from Cebu airport to Tacloban and one C-17A Globemaster military aircraft arriving directly from Australia with 22 tonnes of clinical supplies.

SDV provided vital ground handling services to load and unload the planes arriving in the Philippines and transferred equipment some 250 kilometers from Cebu to Tacloban by commissioning 15 trucks and one barge. SDV also sourced water, fuel, food and medicines to supply the hospital as there was nothing available in Tacloban, Ricard adds. In addition, SDV organized accommodation and food for air crews, doctors, and army staff.

Separately, SDV mobilised another fleet of 30 trucks to pick up and deliver food to Tacloban and the surrounding areas for the United Nations World Food Program.

The Philippines disaster was on an unexpected scale but it illustrates the importance of forward planning for aid and relief operations in Asia, a region regularly hit by typhoons, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, says Emmanuel Petrequin, the Singapore-based regional healthcare manager for SDV Asia Pacific.

« Logistics for aid and relief operations cannot be improvised, » Petrequin adds. « We must have a trusted local network in place, we need to have a good relationship with the charter airlines operating in the different countries and we need to know their strengths and weaknesses. » SDV typically has just a few hours to respond to requests for logistics services from organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization or the Red Cross, he notes.

For example, months ahead of the Philippines typhoon, SDV’s local office checked with the charter companies operating there to see what capacity they had. SDV also researched the capacity of Cebu airport and the length of the runway to see what kinds of planes could land. Cebu is now at the centre of the global response to the Philippines crisis, handling over 800 metric tonnes of cargo every day.

« We need excellent local knowledge of airports and ports and the types of planes and boats available, » says Antoine Multon, sales director for SDV in Malaysia. He helps coordinate the supply of emergency kits including biscuits, torches and clothes for agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Food Program from warehouses in Malaysia to disaster-hit countries in Asia.

In all operations, SDV must have in-depth knowledge of the customs procedures, to avoid any delays. « Even though aid and relief operations are tax-exempt they must still pass through customs » Petrequin notes.

Aid and relief operations vary considerably according to the nature of the crisis but all require sound crisis-management systems. « We need to react extremely quickly and that is only possible if we have done all the groundwork in advance, » Petrequin says.

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