At the end of this week we will mark a major milestone – over 1,000 metric tonnes (MT) of life-saving supplies will have been sent to Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia, Palestine, South Sudan and *Syria+ this month.
That’s enough to fill nineteen jumbo jets – and a record for the amount of emergency cargo going to multiple countries in 31 days. It has basically been a 24-7 operation for UNICEF’s supply community, with the departures and arrivals of airplanes spanning all hours of the day and night.
Early Tuesday, we sent a second shipment of Ebola supplies to Monrovia, Liberia, from our headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. The supplies have included emergency food rations, medicines, emergency health kits, water supplies, vaccines, hygiene kits, nutrition products, early childhood development and recreation kits for psycho-social care, tents for shelter and basic services, chlorine and supplies for health workers for Ebola control.
Today’s shipment is one of the remaining six that will be sent before the end of the month to reach children in countries facing crises. Once these six go out, they will bring the total sent by air in August to 49.
To put that into perspective – in a typical month we would airfreight less than a quarter of this amount. UNICEF designs its supply chain so that the majority of deliveries to countries go via sea or road as both are more economical than air. But in these cases, speed and access were the determining criteria.
At the beginning of the month, we didn’t expect the situation would unfold as it has.
We were already sending supplies to CAR, Syria+ and South Sudan when, in the second week of the month, the UNICEF team in Erbil, Iraq, alerted us that a humanitarian corridor was needed to provide a massive scale-up of support. Within days we had pre-booked charter flights and opened a new corridor, delivering several hundred metric tonnes of supplies.
So, from our perspective, what does it take to achieve all of this?
- Experts on the ground, who advise on what is needed the most;
- Knowledge of the products to ensure what we’re sending is right for countries and conditions we’re sending it to;
- Timely and generous contributions from individuals, the private sector and governments;
- Pre-arranged agreements for products which help us get the supplies as quickly as possible;
- Forecasting for the kinds of supplies we’re likely to need the most – and having these available in warehouses;
- Inspectors who ensure that the supplies meet quality standards;
- Knowledge of commercial and charter flying routes and permits – to deliver the supplies without additional challenges.
- Teams on the ground who receive and move the goods from the aircrafts to the people who need them;
- Efficient clearing processes for incoming supplies and transit points; and
- The right strategic and tactical partnerships including with suppliers, freight forwarders, NGOs, sister UN agencies and governments.
We also monitor each step – so in case there are any issues we can mitigate them and avoid anything that might derail a delivery.
There is a unique story for each destination but the ingredients for a successful supply delivery are the same: preparation, teamwork, innovation, timely decision making and passion – fueled by those who are the ground seeing the needs of children first-hand.
We are merely doing our job – and hoping that we’re doing it right and fast enough to make a difference for children.
Shanelle Hall is the Director of UNICEF Supply Division, the organization’s procurement and logistics headquarters in Copenhagen. She focuses on both the global availability and local delivery of essential supplies for children in more than 100 countries.
* Syria+ refers to Syria as well several other countries hosting Syrian refugees.