When Disaster Strikes - Developing the Case for Humanitarian Aid

Over a number of years INSEAD's Luk Van Wassenhove has collaborated with disaster logistics experts at the Fritz Institute to disseminate case studies of use to field operatives needing to coordinate logistics during humanitarian disasters. This article overviews two ground-breaking case study series including humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and India.

by Luk Van Wassenhove

In recent years, the science of supply chain management has become critically important for businesses. But in disaster relief operations, logistical shortcomings and oversights may result in serious consequences for the victims of disaster, for whom the operations are carried out.

INSEAD Henry Ford Chaired Professor of Manufacturing Luk Van Wassenhove shocked most colleagues by going to Afghanistan in 2002. He felt an urgent need to write a case study on the conditions facing relief personnel in the country. Unfortunately, scholarly research into many aspects of humanitarian aid is still too rare, often because of a lack of funding.

The San Francisco-based Fritz Institute asked Van Wassenhove to share his expertise in supply chain management and logistics. The Institute was established to strengthen the infrastructures of relief organisations by applying the technological and logistical expertise and resources developed in the corporate and academic communities. The Institute's managing director sees its main challenge as "making aid effective" through developing tools and supporting the humanitarian relief process generally, while adding to the overall body of knowledge in the field.

Realising that the fundamental significance of logistics is still usually not well understood by workers in the field, Fritz Institute disseminates case studies describing various disaster responses made by the IFRC in recent years. These cases provide essential, versatile and flexible teaching materials for those needing to coordinate logistics under the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

This article appearing in the Autumn of 2003 on the European Case Clearing House website (www.ecch.cranfield.ac.uk) gives a good overview of two case series jointly developed by Professor Van Wassenhove and the Fritz Institute. Continue on INSEAD Knowledge or ECCH to access the case studies.

ECCH, Autumn/Fall 2003

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