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Challenges and solutions in the delivery of Humanitarian Relief

The ultimate goal of humanitarian logistics (HL) is to deliver the right supplies in the right quantities to the right location at the right time to save lives and reduce human casualties (Balcik & Beamon, 2008). With an overall annual expenditure of around $20 billion, it’s still not enough to cover the unpredictable natural catastrophes (Tatham & Christopher, 2018).

Major disasters such as the 2004 Thailand tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake which had a substantial number of human casualties and infrastructure damage have emphasized the big importance of having efficient and effective humanitarian relief operations.


Humanitarian logistics studies identify multiple challenges including, collaboration and coordination (Balcik, 2010), contextual factors related to unpredictability (Kovács & Spens, 2009), lack of resources (Gustavsson, 2003) and lack of planning (Jahre, 2016) as well as related to funding, accountability and even sustainability.

A study conducted by interviewing UNHCR logistics field staff located in 130 countries, found that the main influence logistics challenge was that the internal structure, as well as its strategies and policies, influence both the nature of these operational challenges and the way in which it responds (Tatham & Christopher, 2018). Operational challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, security concerns, poor emergency response preparedness (ERP), coordination, lack of transparency between intra-organizational departments, and the lack of inadequate information sharing were identified.

Furthermore, more field-related challenges were given of operating in uncertain and harsh conditions to find adequate resources such as durable vehicles and functioning generators. As transportation goal is to ensure that the right goods are delivered at the right place, at the right time, in the right condition it is stressed that cross-functional communication and coordination are essential to achieve seamless supply chain processes.

Also, of challenges responded were the difficult access to beneficiaries, international transportation, and custom-related issues as well as infrastructure problems due to road network low quality (Tatham & Christopher, 2018). Moreover, a study completed by (Roh, et al., 2016) looked at challenges with pre-positioned warehouses identified challenges such as high asset maintenance cost, high inventory cost, failure in forecasting stock level, difficulties in justifying funding, IT breakdown, poor quality of goods, untrained local staff and limited space available in warehouses.

Overall, the lack of time and resources for planning was one of the primary causes that negatively affect the activities and results HL tries to achieve which results in the difficulty to deliver relief in the right places with speed and accuracy.


Modern technology can provide a lot of advances in HL delivery. Technologies such as 3D printing, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), hybrid cargo ships, helium-filled airships each wish to improve the HL and deliver the relief faster and more efficiently.

3D printers (3DP) have the advantage of low cost ($40/kg) and ease of transportation that can utilize a range of source materials that can be used to build objects such as pipes and connectors used in water that can replace broken components. Moreover, 3DP will increase the transportation efficiency by reducing time and space as parts can be constructed on-site of the disasters within a timeframe up to 12 hours.

An example of the 2010 Haiti post-earthquake debris removal which was estimated at 1000 trucks (Booth, 2010), could lead to onsite development of new 3D dwellings with a significant reduction in cost. RPAS, have the potential to transfer medical payload (Papua New Guinea,2014; Malawi,2016), provide post-disaster mapping (The Philippines, 2013; Nepal, 2015) and damage assessment of logistic routes and infrastructure (Vanuatu,2015) as well as act as a temporary mobile communications system.

Another solution of hybrid cargo ships and helium-filled airships can lift significant quantities of material and deliver the last mile directly to affected areas by landing on water and docks if the infrastructure is damaged. These solutions eliminate the movements associated with loading/unloading hence saving time and cost at the various nodes (Tatham & Christopher, 2018).


  • Balcik, B. & Beamon, B., 2008. Facility location in humanitarian relief. International Journal of Logistics: Research and Application, s.l.: pp.101–121.

  • Tatham, P. & Christopher, M., 2018. Humanitarian Logistics : Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters. s.l.:Kogan Page, Limited.

  • Balcik, B. B. B. K. C. M. K. a. R. M., 2010. Coordination in humanitarian relief chains: Practices, challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Production Economics , pp. 126 (1), pp 22– 34

  • Kovács, G. & Spens, K., 2009. Identifying challenges in humanitarian logistics. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management , pp. 39 (6), pp 506– 28.

  • Gustavsson, L., 2003. Humanitarian logistics: Context and challenges. Forced Migration Review, pp. 18 (6), pp 6– 8.

  • Jahre, M. P. A. a. V. W., 2016. Defining logistics preparedness: A framework and research agenda. Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management , pp. 6 (3), pp 372– 98.


  • Booth, W., 2010. Haiti faces colossal and costly clean-up before it can rebuild, s.l.: Washington Post Foreign Service.


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