September 20 - 21, 2004
Nairobi, Kenya

For the past three years, Fritz Institute has been systematically assessing and analyzing humanitarian logistics. Through the annual Humanitarian Logistics Conference held in Geneva, case studies, academic journals and other convenings, the voices and concerns of logisticians in the humanitarian sector have been registered. With the Africa Regional Humanitarian Logistics Conference (HLC), the perspectives of other critical stakeholders in the global humanitarian logistics community were added to our growing base of knowledge.

The conference, long overdue and widely appreciated, enabled the thirty-two participants to explore ways in which they can work together to improve logistics processes in the African context. Logisticians were asked to share their experiences and views on local and regional disaster response. The presentations were varied and included a broad representation of experience in the region and the continent. For example, George Fenton of World Vision International provided the group with a background of the Sudan crisis. Onserio Nyamwange, a professor at the University of Nairobi and Agnes Nyaguthie of CARE presented a case study on challenges of humanitarian logistics in Somalia. Abbas Gullet of the Kenyan Red Cross looked at the current state of the Red Cross Movement and how African national Red Cross societies can benefit from partnerships. During two days of engaging discussions, several challenges emerged that humanitarian logisticians face today on a field and regional level. A recurring theme during the discussions was the need to increase professionalization of humanitarian logistics.

Biggest Challenges for Humanitarian Logisticians
After the conference opening and welcome, participants were asked to briefly introduce themselves and asked by moderator Abbas Gullet of the Kenya Red Cross to answer the question "what are the biggest challenges that humanitarian logisticians face today in Africa".

Inadequate training was mentioned as a key concern since the knowledge level of staff is oftentimes not in line with the requirements of the functional areas of humanitarian logistics. Also, pointed out were poor infrastructure due to lack of resources and other factors such as port capacity. A general concern was also the lack of standards and indicators with no benchmarks, because the standardization among relief organizations is lacking. There is not enough information and statistical data for logisticians to draw from and a general lack of comprehensive planning was cited. The participants further maintained that there is a lack of collaboration among organizations and a need for better coordination and collaboration among humanitarian organizations. And finally, logistics as a crucial core function is not recognized within the organizations and subsequently does not get enough support from management.

A participant mentioned that it is difficult for NGO logistics professionals to be in the policy making process. Management and program officers oftentimes don't recognize the importance of logistics. Logisticians, on the other hand, tend to focus on details and are not especially good at "selling themselves" within the organization. Another attendee agreed and stated that logistics is not considered as important as programming. "Most logistics staff are not included in program planning, although logistics is a side function of programming. It is important as a logistician to let people know that you're there." It is vital to put logisticians into that process.

Discussion of Recent Experience in Darfur, Sudan from a Humanitarian Logistics Perspective
Introducing the question of whether humanitarian organizations have done a better job in identifying and meeting logistics requirements for emergencies, George Fenton of World Vision provided the group with a background of the current Sudan crises and his personal experiences there. Led by George Fenton as the discussion leader, participants shared their recent experiences in dealing with the Sudan crisis.

The country has not changed in 20 years for a number of reasons and the mechanism that aid organizations are using now is the same that they were using 20 years ago. Regarding the parallel with twenty years ago, the community has lessons learned but these are not applied to the next situation. During the current crisis the international community was too late in its response. "We knew that there were problems last year. We did not prepare; we did very little." Had there been more planning the response could have been more efficient/effective. The biggest problem on the ground is a sheer lack of information available to the organizations. It was mentioned that the number of beneficiaries is inaccurate since numbers were extrapolated from old census information. Also, there is a lack of understanding of beneficiaries' locations. Further, the lack of capacity among the aid community hindered the operation.

The one thing that the aid sector is losing sight of is the impact that it is having in an environment like Darfur. In terms of local capacity building organizations are not using as many Sudanese people as they should be. Bringing in too many international staff can have a negative impact.

A big change compared to twenty years ago is the fact that today NGO's are better at working together:

  • Participants maintained that the UN can play a more useful coordinating function, "but it needs to demonstrate transparency" in doing so. The way the current operation is organized could not have taken place before the inception of UNJLC and the willingness of aid organizations to collaborate through UNJLC aided the effort.
  • The C-SAFE consortium grew out of an emergency situation and is regional. The organizations recognized the need of coming together in development situation as well. we have to be realistic about how organizations collaborate, coordinate and share information.
  • The Fleet Forum, an interagency group, was mentioned as a good interagency initiative that emerged out of an understanding of experts that kept seeing the same organizations constantly reinventing the wheel.
According to the humanitarian relief professionals present, the bottom line is that logisticians can be more effective as a group that supports aid operations and Fritz Institute is helping create a growing voice within the sector.

Discussion Groups on Definition of Humanitarian Logistics
It became clear during the group discussions that the definition of humanitarian logistics varies by organization. All groups agreed that the way logistics is perceived within their organization is crucial. A common understanding of the importance of logistics leads to resource allocation that properly reflects the scope of responsibilities of the function.

Looking at the realities and challenges of humanitarian logistics in Africa, participants identified common areas of concern:

  • Logistics personnel oftentimes do not have a seat at the table so their needs are not represented during the programming planning process.
  • There is not enough communication between the operational side and the program side. A group maintained that it would help to have the field be the driver for the planning process and to use a bottom up rather than top down approach.
  • It was also mentioned that it is difficult to cooperate and establish standard processes when the partners are also potential competitors.
The practitioners further looked at the difference between supply chain management and logistics and the way logisticians are looked at as the "jack of all trades". Unlike in the commercial sector where supply chain is the umbrella, it was argued that logistics is the umbrella and supply chain is the sub-function in the humanitarian world.

Because logistics functions are so poorly defined, there is a tendency for organizations to use it as a repository for functions that do not fit elsewhere. A logistician's status within the NGO is therefore low and his or her voice not heard. As an added difficulty, there is also the perception that the logistics area is prone to corruption and that most people can do logistics without having an educational/professional logistics background.

Field Studies of Humanitarian Logistics in Ethiopia and Kenya
Because logistics functions are so poorly defined, there is a tendency for organizations to use it as a repository for functions that do not fit elsewhere. A logistician's status within the NGO is therefore low and his or her voice not heard. As an added difficulty, there is also the perception that the logistics area is prone to corruption and that most people can do logistics without having an educational/professional logistics background.

The intended results of the survey and interviews conducted are to build foundations for benchmarks and standards, highlight best practices in the field, share common challenges, as well as develop recommendations and potential interventions to improve the sector.

  • Christina Maiers and Steve Kotleba worked in the Great Lakes and East Africa region on humanitarian supply chain management. They worked closely with the Kenya & East Africa Interagency Working Group. Using analytical tools of standards and information sharing and SWOT analysis, they identified further areas for collaboration among the agencies. They also looked at ways to support the current interagency efforts to provide a platform for information sharing.
  • In Ethiopia, Dara Ayres and Margaret Reynolds conducted research to better understand the current situation of NGO humanitarian relief logistics, with a focus on systems design, information systems, storage and inventory control, delivery systems, and collaboration. Their preliminary observation of the system design was that it is mostly a "pull system" with three to four levels; headquarters, central offices, regional program offices, and service delivery points. In general, field offices have a high degree of autonomy. The students found that 99% of organizations surveyed value increased collaboration especially in key areas of advocacy, procurement, governmental policy, and elimination of program redundancies.
The data analysis is currently underway and being conducted by a team of graduate students, professors and logistics experts. The ultimate goal is to use the data collected by the students to find areas for collaboration that will yield positive results by either leveraging the humanitarian organizations' total network or introducing concepts from the private sector that may be relevant.

Discussion Group on Training-Certification for Logisticians in the Humanitarian Sector
One of the key outcomes of the January 2004 Humanitarian Logistics Conference in Geneva was the expressed interest to pursue a training-certification program as a long-term goal. An advisory committee comprised of representatives of major organizations was consequently established, and a survey among various organizations conducted. As an introduction to the group discussions on training, the preliminary findings were presented at this conference.

In order to get a perspective from people working in the field and regional level, Africa HLC participants were asked whether their current training needs are addressed, what is missing and why and how it could be corrected. Overall, participants welcomed the idea of a standardized training-certification program that is accessible to practitioners in the developing world. They agreed that there is a need for certification for professional logistics since today there is a lack of qualified personnel in the field. Training is undertaken to build capacity but in reality as one participant put it "in the field logistics is not being taken seriously". To create a sustainable training program all stakeholders should be involved. Participants agreed that a successful program would help in the setting of benchmarks and increase standardization. Through access to training, local staff becomes more effective and empowered in the process.

There was agreement that there is no organization that addresses training for all aspects of logistics. An institution that has standards for the training of logistics; bringing different parts of logistics together would be extremely helpful. Training is usually administered through internal staff and external facilitators. Plus there is training through workshops on needs basis. However, training is not administered consistently. Also, in the field today there are people with various levels of qualifications and it is difficult to measure the value of them.

During group discussions, practitioners grappled with the issue of what kind of training should be offered. Should it be more specialized or more broadly based? How will it be funded? Another issue was delivery of training to the people working on a field and regional level: Can it be a long distance tool that is more accessible to the field or can it be a regional training hub such as Nairobi?

Most of the external programs currently offered are too expensive for the organizations. PVOs are generally not good about investing in long-term training and it is not easy for them to get outside funding. Participants maintained that there is a need to prioritize funding for logistics training, since it is a crucial aspect of local capacity building.

Conclusions and Next Steps
Participants recognized the need for an annual Regional Africa HLC and its value in sharing their experiences and learning about initiatives currently underway. During the conference we saw common themes and areas of concern for humanitarian logisticians in Africa. As outlined in Appendix A, the group identified next steps in specific areas identified during the discussions.
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2012
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2008
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2007
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2006
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2005
+ Humanitarian Logistics Conference - Africa Region 2004
- Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2004
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