An Operational and Conceptual Inter-Agency Logistics Platform - The United Nations Joint Logistics Center

In this truly unique series of four case studies, INSEAD's Luk Van Wassenhove and Ramina Samii spend a number of years under the skin of the United Nations Logistics Center (UNJLC). This offers an evolving view of how the Center came into being, how its operations increased and how it came to be considered as a federating logistics coordinator in humanitarian disaster situations across the world.

by Luk Van Wassenhove, Ramina Samii
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Unfortunately it feels like the world has seen more humanitarian disasters over the last decade than previously remembered. This impression may simply be due to increased media coverage, but the fact remains that humanitarian agencies have been pushed to the limit by man-made disasters of war, flood and famine, fire and mudslides and nature's rumblings be they earthquake, hurricane or tidal wave.

Add to this poverty and poor infrastructure and the recipe is set for unbearable hardship and suffering - as experienced across Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East over this last decade, not to mention but to a lesser extent, in other more prosperous parts of the world. Such disasters may not only take human life, but also wipe out building infrastructure and even completely destroy social infrastructure as seen recently in South Asia.

While reading through the four featured case studies: UNJLC: The Genesis of a Humanitarian Relief Coordination Platform; UNJLC: The Afghanistan Crisis Logistics Moving the Seeds of a Brighter Future: UNJLC's Second Year in Afghanistan and UNJLC: An Operational and Conceptual Inter-Agency Logistics Platform, one realises what a miracle it is that so much humanitarian aid actually makes it through to the people in need.

The logistic issues surrounding such large-scale humanitarian aid efforts are enormous and hugely varied. From working out merely how to get to the place in need; how to transport millions of tonnes of goods and sometimes thousands of trained personnel and exactly what goods and personnel are needed; negotiating with local authorities and even warring factions just to be able to operate; coordinating with groups of agencies to prevent double-up and wasted resources; getting hold of viable local information; setting up of systems and supply pipelines and transfer of knowledge to the local people so that they can take over when the 'emergency' phase is over.

Since the first inklings of its inception in 1998, the UNJLC has gradually become a recognised coordinator in a number of humanitarian efforts in Zaire, India, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Iraq and Sudan, to name a few.

As an ad-hoc temporarily deployed group, under the umbrella of the World Food Programme, and manned by logistics and other experts seconded over from other humanitarian agencies, UNJLC slowly took on the role as a logistics point of contact. While respecting both aid agencies respective mandates and existing logistical operations, and local government and NGO cultural and operational specificities, UNJLC built itself a position of respect and utility through the application of tailored country specific logistics solutions in coordination with as many concerned parties as they could get on-board.

INSEAD 2004

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