From Holidays to Emergency Operations: The Life of a WFP Logistician

Omar Ali, the former Logistics Coordinator for WFP Libya, was on vacation when WFP began mobilizing its expert logisticians to North Africa. He had just returned to Headquarters, fresh from holidays.

“I had just parked my car and was walking to my office when I recognized a familiar face in the corridor,” says Omar. 

Barely having set foot inside, he hears a voice booming his way. “Omar! Don’t unpack: you go to Cairo.” It was Martin Ohlsen, the Director of Logistics – and someone a WFP logistician doesn’t normally say “No” to.  A few days later, Omar was on a plane to Cairo, where he would work as WFP Logistics Officer to set up an operational plan for delivering aid to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

At the same time, WFP was already working hard in the region as the lead of the Logistics Sector Response within the humanitarian community for the North Africa crisis. One of WFP’s main responsibilities in this role is to gather and coordinate the flow of vital logistics information for all countries involved. All kinds of information, ranging from air and seaport capacities to a list of land transport companies, WFP is responsible for sharing and therefore enabling its humanitarian partners to work as efficiently and quickly as possible. 

Not only this, but WFP seeks out and assesses the needs of the humanitarian community – whether it be help in transporting food and relief items via land, sea or air, locating a storage facility, or troubleshooting any problems that could arise when partners act together on an emergency. One thing is for certain: WFP will find a solution. This same promise has been reflected in the work that Omar and his colleagues succeeded to accomplish.

Within 72 hours of his arrival, Omar and his colleagues had tendered, contracted and coordinated the arrival of the first vessel, carrying 1,182 metric tonnes of wheat flour to the port of Benghazi. Securing 2 warehouses with a total of 25,000m2capacity for food storage was also a feat to be accomplished and served as a crucial strategic base for their logistics operations -- especially considering the challenges of working in a war-torn environment.  Fighting and insecurity had rendered telephones and fax machines the only forms of possible communication which allowed them to speak with WFP national staff in Benghazi, who played a vital role in organizing shipping, storage and transport.

With relief items loaded onto the trucks, a team of dedicated WFP logisticians worked tirelessly to ensure the safe passage and delivery of food and humanitarian supplies through available transport routes from the seaports directly to the beneficiaries throughout all 3 countries.

Planning ahead is also an integral part of performing logistics, which is why WFP chooses to store large quantities of life-saving food items and supplies in predefined locations. In instances where WFP is not able to provide food assistance due to security reasons, logisticians strategically pre-position supplies right outside of harm’s way, but remain prepared to rush in as soon as the coast is clear. To date, WFP has prepositioned or mobilized a total of 16,516 metric tonnes of food for the three countries.

With the operational plan in place and emergency logistics in full swing, Omar was able to return to Rome this week.  While his colleagues in the Cairo Regional Bureau continue to coordinate North African food assistance, and although things are running smoothly, WFP logisticians have learned never get too comfortable upon their return.

In Omar’s 15 years of experience as a logistician, he knows this all too well, “Sometimes I just don’t unpack,” he says. “Although my work can be demanding, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything."

great job

Dearest Omar, I'm glad to have been on your team and work together as it was my pleasure to join WFP for few months in 2003,2004. It was really a great and awesome experience