Calm, Serene -- and a Logistics Master

He has an unassuming appearance. With a calm and serene disposition, and dressed in worn jeans with a rustic plaid button-down, you wouldn’t guess Peter Schaller to be the man behind WFP’s entire humanitarian aid effort of the intense Pakistan floods in August 2010. But his passion for the work he does and the people whose lives he works to save is undeniable.

When flash floods engulfed over 240 bridges in Northern Pakistan in one day, Peter coordinated food assistance to more than ten million people. So when he calls the massive logistics response to the 2010 floods one of the “least demanding” operations he’s ever coordinated, it’s OK to be surprised.

But Peter is the first to tell you that the words “impossible” and “logistics” don’t belong in the same sentence. Dropping food out of helicopters onto the rooftops of flooded areas, rebuilding roads and bridges in mountainous terrain and navigating through countries rocked by civil war and genocide — he knows no limits.

Peter showed his ability to rally and motivate a team from his very first assignment in Sudan. “He’s a natural leader,” says Chief of Aviation Pierre Carasse, who hired him.

After Sudan, Peter moved on to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “He played a key role in the DRC, where he was responsible for the whole logistics operation in the eastern part of the country — and in a time of permanent fighting. He managed to have food reach the beneficiaries against all odds and under the most difficult and dangerous conditions. Peter never gives up,” says Pierre.

logistics team members loading wfp food and supplies onto a UN planeAs an ex-Austrian military commander, he’s used to unstable, high-stress situations. He’s organized food aid in the middle of chaos: warring militias, hijacked humanitarian trucks and bands of child soldiers. When faced with danger, the last thing Peter wants to do is stay home. “Too many need our help,” he says. And experiences like the drive-by shooting that taught him to always sit facing the street — even for a five-minute coffee inside a bar — have made him who he is today.

He also knows how important the help and support of a team is to any manager. And without his team, he knows he wouldn’t have received the 2010 Tun Myat Award for Excellence in Humanitarian Logistics, awarded to Peter in a ceremony in Rome on 24 March 2011.

“Each and everyone is equally deserving of this acknowledgement. It is especially humbling to receive recognition for a role that I feel such pride and privilege to fulfill. In receiving this award, I would like to say that we achieve this by having the right people with the right attitude under the right leadership,“ he says.

“It is difficult to find a colleague in WFP who does not thrive on a challenge; who does not manage to exceed their own expectations when facing the huge challenges during an emergency. No matter how vast the needs, how devastated the infrastructure, or how insecure the environment, we find that these are the challenges that motivate us. It is precisely this commitment and determination to reach our beneficiaries that drives me.”

*The above photo was taken during WFP logisitics operations in the 2010 Pakistan floods. Copyright: Amjad Jamal/WFP