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  • ntroduction

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

Business logistics and commercial supply chains are sophisticated operations based on forecast demand, inventory control and a number of models that optimise a dynamic and fast moving system. Humanitarian supply chains are essentially the same but with the following significant differences:

  • unpredictable demand in terms of timing, geographic location, type of commodity, quantity of commodity;
  • short lead time and suddenness of demand for large amounts of a wide variety of products and services;
  • high humanitarian stakes regarding timelines in the face of a sophisticated global media and the high anticipatory attention of the donors;
  • lack of initial resources in terms of supply, human resource, technology, capacity and funding.

Source, Balcik and Beamon, 2008, 102

 

The LOG and the Humanitarian Supply Chain

The various elements in the humanitarian supply chain, ranging from assessment right through distribution to monitoring and evaluation, are represented as main topics in the LOG highlighting “best practices” in terms of information, templates, tools and standard procedures.

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