Versions Compared


  • This line was added.
  • This line was removed.
  • Formatting was changed.


‘A warehouse is a planned space for the storage and handling of goods and material.’ (Fritz Institute)

In general, warehouses are focal points for product and information flow between sources of supply and beneficiaries. However, in humanitarian supply chains, warehouses vary greatly in terms of their role and their characteristics.


The global warehousing concept has gained popularity over the last decade as stock pre-positioning becomes one of the strategies for ensuring a timely response to emergencies. They are usually purpose built or purpose designed facilities operated by permanent staff that has been trained in all the skills necessary to run an efficient facility or utilising third party logistics (3PL) staff and facilities. For such operations, organisations use, information systems that are computer based, with sophisticated software to help in the planning and management of the warehouse. The operating situation is relatively stable and management attention is focused on the efficient and cost effective running of the warehouse operation. Numerous organizations have centralized pre-positioning units strategically located globally. Some of these offer extended services to other humanitarian organizations on a cost plus operating charges basis. The United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) Network.

Field Warehouses

They are Field Warehouses are usually temporary in nature. They may be housed in a building buildings which was not designed to be used as a warehouse or , in a temporary building/structurestructures, in and are often in mobile units such as (rub halls, Wiikhalls and sometimes ) that are little more than a tent in a field. The initial staff may be a casual workforce that has never worked in a warehouse before and the inventory system is more likely to be paper based. Often the situation is initially chaotic, sometimes dangerous coupled and coupled with a humanitarian need which may be very urgent. The management style must therefore be practical and action oriented with a focus on making the humanitarian goods available as quickly and efficiently as possible, but yet while being accountable at the same time accountable.

Policies and Procedures



However, in creating such procedures, care must be taken to avoid constraining the use of local initiative which might be required to deal with local conditions. Procedures should be considered as streamlining the business processes and providing checks and balances. They provide guidance to warehouse managers and must have some level of flexibility to cater for cater to unique situations, than to be rigidly adhered to. This can be achieved by limiting the level of detail that the procedures document defines, allowing more flexibility and/or by arranging ‘dispensations’ to allow departure from the procedures in order to optimise local performance, especially in emergencies.


  • Commercial: in rented building used for business.
  • Government or state: such as at the ports or harbours. This is common in emergency situations.
  • Transit: for temporary storage of goods destined for different locations and need storage for a very short time.
  • Bonded warehouses: for storage of goods whose duty is unpaid and especially where the goods are destined to another country. Pre-positioned stock is often held in bonded warehouses so that export is quick and can be sometimes be stored for long periods sometime.
  • Open storage: not ideal for perishable products but in emergencies, sometimes the only alternative.
  • Space that is owned and managed by the organisation.
  • Pre-fabricated warehouses where there are no permanent structures available. This is common practice in emergencies.


  • allocate space for each type of product and locating number;
  • allow sufficient space for easy access to the stacks for inspecting, loading and unloading. Stacks should be one meter from the walls and another meter between stacks;
  • sizing the goods receipt and despatch area;
  • allow space for storage of cleaning materials and supplies;
  • allocate areas for damaged items by consignment number;
  • allow sufficient space to repackage damaged items and place it in separate stacks;
  • sufficient free space is needed to operate a warehouse effectively. When planning the size of a warehouse consider:
    • planning on having about 70-80% utilisation of available space, whilst considering:
    • throughput rate
    • number of sku’sstock keeping units (SKU)
    • handling characteristics of items, etc.
  • See Stacking guide in the Annexes.


Both are applicable to humanitarian situations and have associated pros and cons. Note that economic order quantity (EOQ) in practice only works in a fairly stable environment where demand variability and replenishment lead-time are reasonably stable and predictable. This is not the case in an emergency. Economic order quantity is applicable in more stable environments such as refugee camps and perhaps later in a relief/recovery phase.


Optimisation comes from having logistics systems that can configure, procure and consolidate these packages quickly and at least cost and a distribution chain that is flexible and can adapt to changing requirements quickly and at least cost.

Information systems that facilitate transparency of the supply chains chain inventory levels and location + peg supply to , location, and demand provide the visibility necessary to visibility to facilitate good planning and effective decisions that maximise service services and reduce costcosts.

Stock control and movements


The warehouse is a key component of the supply chain in emergencies. It buffers uncertainties and breakdowns that may occur in the supply chain. When properly managed and appropriately stocked a warehouse provides a consistent supply of material when it is needed.


Additional Information

  • Fritz Institute Certificate in Humanitarian Logistics Warehousing and Inventory ModuleICRC Logistics Field Manual – Chapter 6 Warehouse Management pp 285-362- Link
  • UNICEF Emergency Field Handbook p 380
  • CILT (UK) Certificate – Distance Learning Materials – Warehousing- Link
  • Olsen, D.R.(2003), Gower Handbook of Supply Chain Management, 5th Edition, edited by John Gattorna, Gower- Link
  • Rushton, A., Oxley, J., and Croucher, P., (1989,2000), The Handbook of Logistics and Distribution Management (Second Edition), Kogan Page, London- Link
  • Robeson, J.F. and Copacino, W.C. (1994), The Logistics Handbook, The Free Press- Link
  • Mangan, J., Lalwani, C., and Butcher, T. (2008). Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey.
  • WFP Emergency Field Logistics Manual
  • - Link