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Logistics is a diverse and dynamic function that is flexible and changes according to the various constraints and demands imposed upon it. There is, realistically, no ‘true’ name or ‘true’ definition that can be universally applied, because products, organisations and systems differ.

Many terms are therefore used interchangeably, in literature and in the humanitarian world. One quite frequently accepted view in the humanitarian sector is:

Logistics = Supply + Materials Management + Distribution

Logistics is concerned with physical material and information flows from raw material through to the final destination of the finished product. Major emphasis is now placed on the importance of information as well as physical flows, and an additional and very relevant factor is that of reverse logistics – the flow of products and packaging back through the system.

There is often confusion between “logistics” and “supply chain management”. Logistics is one activity of the end-to-end process of supply chain management.

Humanitarian aid in emergencies may well be ‘80% logistics’ but it encompasses a wider spectrum of activities; as Van Wassenhove observes :

“To many humanitarians, the definition of logistics is open to interpretation”.

From article in Journal of the Operational Research Society, vol 57, no 5, p 475, 2006.


“Supply Chain Management deals with the management of materials, information, and financial flows in a network consisting of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers."

Prof. HauLee -Stanford Supply Chain Forum

Thomas and Nizushima expand the definition of humanitarian logistics to include:

“The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption for the purpose of meeting the end beneficiary’s requirements.”

Logistics training: necessity or luxury? by Anisya Thomas and Mitsuko Mizushima, published in Forced Migration Review, no 22, Jan. 2005.

For the purpose of the LOG we will adapt the definition by Thomas and Nizushima.


Commercial Logistics versus Humanitarian Logistics




The LOG and the Humanitarian Supply Chain




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