Logistics management involves activities related to facilitation of movement of goods, services, and information from the point of origin to a destination point. Major activities in management of logistics are packaging, materials handling, warehousing, transportation, and coordination. Humanitarian logistics is different from business logistics management in that in the former demand is unpredictable in terms of the timing, location of demand, the type of goods and services demanded as well as quantity of demand.

Unpredictability of demand in humanitarian logistics is characterized by short lead times, while there may be a great demand for variety of products. In most cases, humanitarian logistics is also characterized by lack of resources in terms of people, technology, low transportation capacity, and money. Therefore, when considering logistics management there is a need to determine utility of key logistics activities to ensure reduced cost. In majority of recent disasters, humanitarian logistics played an imperative role at all stages of disaster management. However, there have been concerns regarding the effectiveness of logistics management in terms of coordination of different stakeholders in disaster management. Therefore, research and studies on logistics management are essential to facilitate improvement of effectiveness of logistics management.

Logistics management in modern global economies plays a pivotal role in ensuring efficiency and timely availability of products or services in the locations required. In general, logistics management entails the practice of planning, implementing, and controlling effective movement of goods, services, and information to points of consumptions from the point of storage or origin. Effective logistics management facilitates delivery of goods, services, and information in conformation with the requirements of the consumer. In business, logistics management entails cost effective geographical positioning of raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods (Tatham & Houghton 2011). However, humanitarian logistics management is different from business logistics management in terms of location of need, unpredictable demand, and timing of demand size or type.

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Effective logistics management entails a series of activities, which involve packaging and handling of materials, warehousing, transportation, and coordination of activities to ensure effectiveness. Handling of materials is the exercise of ensuring smooth flow of goods and maintenance of materials handling equipments. Packaging involves effective packaging of goods, which ensures that the goods are not damaged during the movement. Inventory management is another essential activity in logistics management since it ensures effective maintenance of buffer stocks, lead time, and replenishment of stocks. Unpredictability of demand in humanitarian management of logistics leads to the complexity of inventory management. This can be attributed to the fact that the lead time in humanitarian logistics is unknown and can occur suddenly (Kovacs & Spens 2009).

Warehousing involves management of the space used for the storage of goods used for humanitarian assistance. In addition, determination of appropriate site of the warehouse is tricky, since the point of demand for the goods and services is unknown and unpredictable. Transport in logistics management involves determination of the most suitable means of transport in terms of time and packaging of products. Coordination entails ensuring control of the flow of the activities involved in management of logistics (Veras, Jaller, Wassenhove, & Perez 2012). The urgency of most humanitarian needs requires efficient management of all logistics activities to ensure increased utility of humanitarian assistance in terms of form, place, and time.

Characteristics of Humanitarian Logistics

Humanitarian logistics is different from normal business logistics activities due to its various common features. Global society has been faced with various natural and man-caused disasters damaging different countries in the recent past. The complexity of humanitarian activities has been accompanied with the fact that majority of societies lack basic necessities such as food, shelter, and access to basic health care among others. During times of disasters effective management of logistics plays an imperative role in ensuring that the needs of the affected people are met quickly (Kovacs & Spens 2011).

Humanitarian logistics are characterized by increased unpredictability of demand for goods, services, and information due to unpredictability of the extent of the disaster. The timing of occurrence is also a major feature increasing the complexity of logistics management. Humanitarian organizations are unable to predict the kind and extent of disaster to determine the kind of resources to provide for such humanitarian activities. Unpredictability of a location where the disaster is bound to happen is another major feature and problem involved in humanitarian logistics. Some areas affected by a disaster or a catastrophe have poor network and infrastructures such as roads. In addition, some disasters, such as tsunami and earthquakes, damage communication systems and infrastructures, which are essential for the purpose of logistics management (Tatham & Spens 2011).

Some disasters occur unpredictably and suddenly require large amounts of different resources within short lead times. This requires to ensure effectiveness of activities involved in logistics management, such as effective handling of materials and packaging, transportation activities, warehousing, and coordination of overall activities. Various humanitarian organizations have established that humanitarian logistics make up 80 percent of all humanitarian activities (Tomasini & Wassenhove 2009). Effectiveness of logistics activities ensures timely delivery of humanitarian aid, which has become an increasingly important aspect of response to disasters. According to statistics, natural and man-caused disasters have been on the rise in terms of impact, magnitude, and frequency increasing the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance. This has led to increasing pressure on humanitarian organizations to improve effectiveness of their performance (Whiting & Ayala-Ostrom 2009).

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Humanitarian organizations state that although the stock of food in the world has continuously diminished, the greater challenge facing humanitarian aid is efficient supply chain during times of crises. The suddenness of occurrence of a disaster is a major factor in humanitarian logistics management that demands timely delivery of goods and services required by the beneficiaries. The magnitude and location of the disaster determine the amount of resources required to mitigate its consequences (Kovács & Spens 2011). Location determines the type of transport means to be used for the purposes of movement of goods and humanitarian services to beneficiaries. Majority of global humanitarian organizations do not understand the importance of logistics management. This has resulted in the situation where logistics management is characterized with high employee turnover rate, lack of institutional learning, and poor technology among others. The main objective of humanitarian activities is to facilitate timely mobilization of resources from donors and administer goods and services to the affected people at sites affected by the disaster (Veras, Jaller, Wassenhove, & Perez 2012).

Supply Chain of Humanitarian Relief

Humanitarian supply chain development is one of the most complex tasks in the process of ensuring effective humanitarian logistics. Humanitarian supply chain development requires technical knowledge, adoption of innovative technologies, coordination, and mobilization of financial resources. Majority of supply chains in humanitarian organizations work with corporations producing the products they supply to disaster stricken areas. Incorporation of the organizations producing these products facilitates cost effectiveness and ensures high quality of goods supplied to beneficiaries. Issues of centralization and decentralization of organization’s systems has been of major concern as more organization engaged in humanitarian assistance increase their decentralization of logistics activities to facilitate response to disasters. For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which is the oldest humanitarian organization established in 1919, operates 186 autonomous National Red Cross societies (Tatham & Spens 2011). These societies have been established to facilitate response to humanitarian crises all around the globe in a timely manner.

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Before the decentralization of the organization, it operated a centralized system, where the needed goods and services were transported in batches through intercontinental flights. These methods created logistics issues in the reception and storage of goods and services needed in local airports with minimal capacity. The decentralized system has also been attributed to increased cost of production, hence decreased effectiveness. Implementation of decentralized system of supply chain allowed effective and quick operation use of air transport due to availability of prepositioned stocks and supplies during crisis (Veras et al 2012). Decentralization of the logistics system and supply chain facilitated faster delivery of high quality services to the victims over a long period of time. The system also facilitated reduction of costs involved in intervention procedures leading to overall effectiveness of logistics and supply chain. The preposition of goods and services in different locations facilitated better preparedness to disaster by organizations (Tatham & Houghton 2011).

Occurrence of a disaster leads to increased mobilization of resources by different stakeholders. However, mobilization activities are performed in uncoordinated manner leading to overall inefficiency of humanitarian activities. Disasters lead to multifaceted issues, which require coordination of various activities by stakeholders responding to the disaster e.g. the government and humanitarian organizations (Kovács & Spens 2011). Lack of coordination of activities can be attributed partly to the devastation of infrastructure, powerful emotions, chaos, and incomplete information. Therefore, it is imperative to harness the available tools for the purpose of addressing all phases of the disaster. For example, recent major disasters include triple disasters in Japan in 2011, hurricane Katrina in 2005, and devastating Haiti earthquakes with tremendous effects on people (Oloruntoba & Gray 2006).

Various challenges emerged due to disasters in the world. These challenges have been faced by local authorities, and national and international humanitarian organizations have emerged in response to disasters. During major global disasters the challenges that these institutions were facing in response to the disasters included uncoordinated activities, lack of resources, and devastation of local infrastructure among others. However, lack of coordination has been stated as a major issue. It led to many uncoordinated actions by various stakeholders, which resulted to ineffectiveness of their response (Tomasini & Wassenhove 2009).

Decentralization of supply chain and logistics management will facilitate easy determination of the status of available infrastructure such as transport systems, health care institutions, telecommunication sector, housing, and emergency services among others. It will also help identify the affected people as well as the magnitude of disaster, which is essential in determination of the resources to be devoted for humanitarian activities. Decentralization enables the local team to establish effective mechanisms and processes of distribution that can be used for the purpose of availing goods and services to the affected people (Whiting & Ayala-Ostrom 2009). In a centralized system, the humanitarian organization has to first establish a base of its operations. It may take a long time before it can understand how to operate in the affected area. This increases the duration of response to a disaster making the response of such an organization ineffective. The organization should ensure timeliness of their response to reduce suffering of the affected people. Effectiveness of logistics and supply chain is evaluated by timeliness and effectiveness of the response to a disaster and ability to reduce people’s suffering (Kovács & Spens 2011).

Phases of a Disaster and Ideas to Human Logistics

Management of a disaster is composed of various steps, which vary in terms of structure from one author to the other. Nevertheless, there are common essential stages of a dealing with a disaster, which include mitigation, preparation, response, and reconstruction. However, the stages that tremendously affect management of logistics are preparation, response, and reconstruction. These stages have been collectively termed as the streams of humanitarian logistics. The first stage involving mitigation refers to the mechanisms aimed to reduce social vulnerability. Majority of activities in this stage involve the government, while humanitarian logisticians are not directly involved. Preparation phase involves various operations and mechanisms put in place before occurrence of the disaster. During this phase, various strategies that facilitate successful response to a disaster are put in place. For example, physical networks are designed, information and communication systems are developed, and bases of coordination and collaboration are built. This stage aims at developing mechanisms and systems that can work in case of the worst scenario of a disaster. It also includes analysis of past experiences to understand and develop capacity to meet new challenges (Commonwealth 2011).

The response phase is the phase after occurrence of a disaster. During this phase various operations are conducted with an objective to reinstate temporary networks and restore the supply of basic services and goods in the shortest time possible. During this phase, success of humanitarian logistics is based on the ability of different stakeholder to coordinate and collaborate. Stakeholders are also expected to respond to a disaster within the shortest time possible to reduce human suffering. Effectiveness of the response by different stakeholders is determined by the ability of the response team to preserve life and prevent death of the affected people. The objective of this phase is to help people by supplying them with services and basic goods. The aftermath of a disaster requires reconstruction to rehabilitate different systems and restore life of the affected people. Disaster can cause long term effects on people in terms of cultural, economic, and social effects. For example, the damage of infrastructure, such as roads network and communication networks, can have long term effect since a road network or rail cannot be reinstated in the short term (Tatham & Spens 2011).

However, different stages involve various frequent challenges, and in every stage agility is required to reduce the impact of a disaster. This refers to the ability to deal with unexpected changes, given the unpredictability of demand and short lead time. Humanitarian logistics management and supply chain is based on principles of agility and leanness. Leanness is the practice and ability to work with less while producing more when the demand is relatively predictable and stable. The two principles focus on effectiveness, speed, efficiency, and cost reduction. For example, agility facilitates effectiveness of the organization to achieve more within a short time, while leanness enables the team at the ground to use fewer resources while producing more services and goods. The supply chain used in humanitarian logistics facilitates reduction of the time consumed, hence more lives are saved. During the response phase, the principle of agility is most applicable as it facilitates reduction of time spent on mitigating effects of the disaster hence facilitating saving more lives. The principle of leanness is most applicable during the reconstruction phase, where there is a need to save costs incurred (Kovacs & Spens 2009).

Humanitarian Logistics Players and Essentiality of Coordination

Management of humanitarian relief operation involves different players with high degree of heterogeneity in respect to culture, capacity, mandate, interests, and logistics expertise among others. However, the major players in humanitarian relief operations are government, humanitarian aid agencies, non-governmental, organizations, and the private sector. Each player has his own role to play in humanitarian operations. For example, the government activates logistic activities within national and international spheres when the disaster strikes. The government has to authorize humanitarian agencies to perform humanitarian logistics activities in the country. The government also plays an imperative role of ensuring development of mechanisms and systems prior to occurrence of a disaster to reduce the effect and probability of the disaster (Hale 1999).
The government engages military when a disaster occurs to provide assistance on various basic needs of the affected people e.g. health care and installation of camps. The military also engage in the process of telecommunications reinstallation and repair damaged routes and infrastructure. Humanitarian aid agencies enable the government to reduce suffering of the affected people. There are various global, regional, and national humanitarian aid agencies, which get involved in case a disaster occurs. Global agencies include those under United Nations such as UNICEF and World Food Program (WFP) among others. Other multinational humanitarian aid agencies S.T. John and Red Cross have played pivotal role in providing humanitarian logistics to the affected regions (Tomasini & Wassenhove 2009).

Donors play an imperative role of providing funds for relief activities. These include financial donations and provision of goods and services in support of humanitarian operations. Other organizations provide logistics services for free such as transportation of goods to disaster stricken areas. However, since all players can provide various types of donations during humanitarian operations, donors are referred to as only those, who provide financial assistance to fund humanitarian operations. Participation of private sector in humanitarian activities facilitates provision of logistics services such as transport, warehousing, and logistics activities. However, the role of private sector has increasingly been essential in provision of funds, technological support, and logistics staff and managers. Involvement of private sector in humanitarian aid provision can be attributed to the fact that the life of this sector is disrupted by the disaster. Therefore, they engage in humanitarian aid to reduce or alleviate the economic effect of disruptions caused by the disaster. During disasters organizations that provide logistics services are best suited to offer help as far as logistics is concerned. Leading multinational logistics services providers, such as FedEx Corporation, DHL, and Maersk among others, have been essential in provision of expertise and resources (Whiting & Ayala-Ostrom 2009).

In conclusion, as frequency and magnitude of disasters in the world increase, humanitarian logistics management plays pivotal role in ensuring effectiveness of response to such disasters. The activities involved in logistics management include materials handling and packaging, transportation, warehousing, and coordination. However, humanitarian logistics management differs from business logistics in terms of unpredictability of demand in terms of quantity, time, and place. During various phases of a disaster logistics management plays an imperative role in ensuring fast response and effective reconstruction. Coordination of various stakeholders is essential to ensure effectiveness of different stakeholders.


  • There is a need for increased decentralization of logistics management teams to facilitate quick response in management of a disaster.
  • There is a need to establish more schools and institutions, which would facilitate more research about the development of more effective methodologies of management of logistics.
  • Governments should create management and coordinating departments, which will facilitate coordination of different stakeholder involved in management of logistics during disasters. This has been a major problem during the recent disasters such as hurricane Katrina.
  • There is a need to involve humanitarian aids organization in different phases of disaster management. This will facilitate understanding of the situations by such organizations.
  • With the increasing frequency and magnitude of disasters, there is a need to establish frameworks that make prior preparations regarding management of disasters. For example, the government can establish offices for disaster management. This was lacking during hurricane Katrina where the security department was left to manage the disaster, which was challenging given the risk of terrorist attacks that threatened the country.

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