Logistics to the rescue
Situations such as a crisis can often be chaotic and air cargo plays a pivotal role towards mitigating the impact of a disaster by relaying relief aid. Lionel Alva Response times matter greatly when it comes to relief aid and air transport’s efficacy is mainly relegated to its ability to respond rapidly. Thus there is a need to develop processes at an international level to respond quickly to unpredictable events. During instances of a crisis such as an outbreak or an earthquake, much hinges upon the efficacy of logistics. And air transport is usually the quickest means to relay relief aid. Agility is the very essence of humanitarian logistics. It can make the difference between life and death. Organisations often have to make quick decisions and several challenges may arise such as conventional means of transportation being rendered ineffective. In such a situation alternate recourse is undertaken. In an emergency it is a priority to move cargo from the airport as quickly as possible to avoid creating a bottleneck which could impact further international deliveries of aid. On occasions where there has been damage to the local infrastructure, distribution of relief items from the airport is not always possible by road. In these cases, logistics organisations engaged in relief efforts will examine options for providing helicopters to assist with delivery of relief items to remote or isolated communities. For example, the Department for International Development (DFID), a United Kingdom government department responsible for administering overseas aid has funded helicopter services in many recent crises such as Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, Ebola in Sierra Leone and the recent earthquakes in Nepal. Also, Airlink, a rapid-response humanitarian relief organisation that links airlines with prequalified nonprofit organizations, has delivered just over $1 million of donated lift, in support of 200 aid workers and 185,000 pounds of aid. The organisation has supported eight major disasters so far this year, including flooding in Malawi, the Syrian refugee crisis and the Ebola outbreak. At the Cargo Facts Symposium, held in Miami, Airlink said it has formed a partnership to improve disaster response as part of Commitment to Action (which is part of the Clinton Global Initiative), called “Help is on the Way” (an allusion to a song by the American rock band Rise Against whose lyrics make a reference to Hurricane Katrina as well as the BP oil spill). The aim is to build a global disaster response network of airlines, NGOs and other donors dedicated to improving the process of disaster response. Ostensibly, an international response to a disaster would seek airfreight as the most sought after means to offer relief aid. Since such endeavours require commensurate resources; often, governments, UN organisations and non-government organisations (NGO) collaborate to ensure the effective delivery of relief aid. There are also organisations like Airlink that help co-ordinate activities between NGOs and airlines. Logistics clusters that are a group of organisations involved in relief efforts may also be formed. “In October 2014 Lufthansa Cargo flew more than 70 tonnes of aid materials to West Africa on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). This action was against the backdrop of the largest ever Ebola epidemic, which broke out simultaneously in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone last year. Aboard of our MD-11 freighter were 200-plus tents, which were used locally as special isolation wards at or near hospitals,” highlights Andreas Pauker, spokesperson for Lufthansa Cargo. Every calamity requires an efficacious, quick and planned response that must take into consideration various challenges. At the ground level, various infrastructure and logistical challenges must be overcome. Ulrich Ogiermann, chief officer cargo, Qatar Airways, asserts, “The biggest logistical challenge in Kathmandu was assessing the damage to the runway and redirecting the flights that were affected immediately after the earthquake. Qatar Airways issued a travel alert to all its passengers informing them of changes to the schedule and assisted them in re-routing their journeys.” Commensurate efforts are also required at all fronts. Ground teams must be prepared to tackle situations that were not accounted for head-on. Qatar Airways has flown 400 tonnes of relief aid, including medicines, food supplies, tents, water filters and generators provided by charities including Qatar’s charity RAF, have been flown to Nepal via a total of 12 freighters that it operates. Ogiermann highlights, “Once operations recommenced and relief transport was able to land, Tribhuvan Airport’s Air Traffic Control tower team had a huge challenge managing the flow of traffic into the airport. Qatar Airways had staff members on hand to assist the Tribhuvan Airport Air Traffic Control tower team to ensure smooth operations were maintained throughout the crisis.” At the government level, infrastructure and logistical co-ordination is sought after. In situations such as a pandemic, there is a need for a great degree of precautions to circumvent its spread. Here, it must be highlighted that commercial airfreight operations are not always sufficient to manage the distribution of aid. There are certain scenarios where communities are so remote that they cannot be reached via conventional means of transportation including commercial air transport. The World Food Programme, a United Nations body often brings other methods into the play when areas needing food are not accessible by road, rail or river. In emergencies, they utilise a cargo drop by a helicopter lift. Sometimes, novel options such as teams of elephants, yak, donkeys and camels may also be used if necessary. In a few instances, military solutions are sought after. DFID highlights that they also work with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to investigate military solutions for logistical needs. In 2014, in Iraq, DFID worked with the UK military to organise air-dropping over 70 tonnes of aid on the Sinjar Mountains to assist the Iraqi people that had been cut off on the mountains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Likewise, following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines DFID stocked the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious with food, building materials and shelter for distribution on outlying islands of the Philippines archipelago that were isolated from the main bulk of the relief effort.