COVID-19: Humanitarian logistics struggles for resources and space
Updated: Mar 19
Humanitarian logistics is experiencing the same problems as other parts of the industry. Because of its unique position, however, certain challenges are amplified. Christopher Moore is a International Logistics Manager at Unto, a humanitarian organisation. He shares with The Logistics Point what are the effects of the COVID-19 are and the worries of the sector.
1. How is the virus impacting your operations - currently and in the near future?
The current impacts for us are the same for all supply chain operations at the moment. Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak this year - in our personal and business life. The shipping industry has been hurt significantly, due to reduced production in China, and reduced exports. It started with a few blank sailings (a vessel schedule skipping a week). Then, the availability of empty containers throughout the country started to dry out, making it harder to schedule inland pickups. Now, the US ports have started closing terminals 2-3 days of the week due to low volume. Vessel space is scarce and fills up fast on the existing rotations. Even after you get a confirmed booking, the steamship line may roll you to a next vessel, even if you have an already loaded container on its way to the terminal. This all impacts us so, at the moment, all we can do is be extra flexible, and set proper expectations with our partners in the field.
2. How can humanitarian logistics response to the virus and mitigate any negative impacts?
For a lot of us, our response has to become more varied and at times creative. Organizations that normally rely on container-based aid shipments, such as ourselves, are now looking to start air freighting supplies. This, of course, is slowly becoming more and more cost-prohibitive as the reduction in commercial flights is driving up the cost of air freight. We are also exploring how we can address the needs of our partners by sourcing aid in their country or neighboring ones. I have seen, in our organization and in others, an increase in WASH Program training to stem the spread of the virus.
3. What are the biggest worries of the sector about the virus?
Our biggest concern is that this virus will cause more damage in places that are already depressed due to famine, war, low to no access to clean water, and economic instability. We work in several refugee camps and it would break our hearts to see people who have gone through so much, have to go through this as well.
4. Do you worry because of it the sector will experience a slow in other major areas?
There is a sense of lean times approaching and it is hard not to worry about that. If you look at the news, you see that the global economy is chaotic at best and here in the States, Wall Street is in free fall. This will inevitably lead to lower charitable giving rates as individuals and families seek to weather the storm of a potential recession. Still, in the midst of all this turmoil, we have hope. And we will continue to do our best, stay on the course, and help as many people as we can.