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How Aid Agencies Tackle the Logistical Challenge in the Philippines

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As soon as a disaster strikes aid agencies begin to mobilise their expertise. Logistics teams are put into place, funding appeals are launched and emergency teams are notified that they are needed. Day four or five after a disaster is often a critical point for relief agencies. It is when the move shifts from aid being received to aid being distributed. Everything that has got us to this point has been a combination of logistical expertise, funding and dedication.

The British Red Cross and other agencies are experienced in the realm of disaster response and while it's extremely difficult to see the images of people stricken by the typhoon disaster, from a logistics point of view we are firing on all cylinders.

Logistics is one of the most crucial elements of any response operation; mess that up, and the whole effort will fall apart. It may seem like aid is slow to reach those in need but we had rapid assessment teams on the ground within 24 hours of the typhoon making landfall. It's critical that these initial teams, reach the scene first as they are the trained experts and their assessments will dictate what aid is sent, and how much of it. These teams are often made up of experts from the local Red Cross chapter who have themselves been affected by the disaster,

Transport hubs and infrastructure are always a major casualty in these types of disaster and their destruction compounds the challenge of getting aid in. It took two days to restore Tacloban airport to a condition where it could receive limited flights. Many of the ports have been destroyed. This all has to be taken into consideration by the logisticians because it affects how many journeys can be made and crucially the size of the planes we charter - send a plane that's too big to land and you've wasted a crucial day and a great deal of money. Fill it with the wrong items and you prolong suffering and distress. We can't afford to make assumptions.

The rush to help has to be carefully managed - we cannot afford to have supply bottlenecks. Although we have aid and relief supplies on standby at strategic hubs around the world, in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Panama, the regional and local ports and airports close to the scene are often ill-equipped to deal with such shipments which makes it hard to physically unload the cargo. In Cebu we are facing a fuel shortage so we can't fly planes in when we have enough fuel to fly them out, otherwise they will be stranded, blocking the runway.

The watching world can be quick to criticise the speed of aid in the face of large scale disasters, they see images on their TV screens and ask 'where is the aid?'; but journalists arrive as small teams with manageable equipment to one locations at a time; we are talking about relief for hundreds of thousands of people in every village, town and city across vast areas, many extremely remote - and all at the same time. It is a colossal challenge with many frustrations along the way - there are customs processes to go through, vessels to charter, documentation to produce and flyover rights to negotiate.

The Red Cross has a huge advantage in its network of national societies meaning that in most countries where a disaster strikes we can draw on local knowledge of the land, the customs and about entry and exit points. We have pre-positioned stock ready for immediate distribution, but that will never be enough.

Preparedness has been an increasing part of our work and of course for this disaster there was some warning; we knew the storm was coming and we took measures to warn and evacuate some 120,000 families from the path of the storm. SMS texts were sent warning local populations of the dangers. Stock was sent to Cebu in advance of the typhhon. But this is thought to have been the largest storm every to make landfall. Unlike an earthquake where there is no warning, there are higher casualties and the damage can be more easily predicted, typhoons are more difficult to second guess.

Aid agencies around the country, and around the world, are working around the clock to ensure relief is brought to the thousands left stricken by the storm. We are incredibly proud of the work we do but there is a long way to go.

When aid does arrive there needs to be assessments as to who is the priority - the elderly or a single parent with an extended young family - to receive it. With so many people affected, and in such the midst of such devastation, it becomes very dangerous to distribute goods. People are desperate and there needs to be a large scale coordinated effort in order to serve those affected with dignity and respect and lessen the chance of desperate people taking desperate actions.

Aid agencies know all this, and they are prepared. We will be working round the clock to ensure everything in our power is done to help the people of the Philippines.

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