No place too remote
No challenge too tough
WFP logistics - We deliver
by Jonathan Thompson (WFP Logistics)
WFP Shipping has worked tirelessly to help bring Haiti's ports back online. Port-au-Prince port, where 90% of all seaborne container traffic arrives in Haiti, is once again running smoothly thanks to the efforts of the team. WFP has now also successfully docked the first passenger vessels in 35 years at the port's South Pier. The Sea Voyager and Ola Esmeralda, both WFP chartered vessels, arrived yesterday at the south pier. It has been a little over two months since the port was severely damaged during the January 12th earthquake (see photo below). Known as APN (Autorite Portuaire Nationale), the port has been under repair by the Haitian government and the US military for the past two months. The largest importer in Haiti, WFP has worked to help facilitate the repair process whenever possible. In addition to their coordination efforts, Port Captains Niels Olsen and Mary Theresa O'Neill have worked hard to clear massive cargo congestion and the backlog of customs documentation that has kept the port from running at full capacity. Thanks to their efforts the port is now moving more cargo than before the earthquake. Turn over is now around 300 containers per day whereas before the earthquake they unloaded less than 300 containers per day. South Pier repairs have been the work of Commander Matthew Hahne and a team of US military divers. They have been capping the tops of fractured pilings with steel and concrete for weeks. The pier is 70% complete with an estimated completion date of March 20th. The south side of the pier is already being used for discharge of container and break bulk cargo. Once work on the north side is completed simultaneous unloading on the south pier will once again be possible. See photos of damaged port
I live on a ship. It is a big ship. There are beds, staircases, a dining room and even a bit of levity in the few waking moments we are onboard. We wake up at 5:30am every morning. After a quick breakfast we strap on our life vests and head for the door. We walk down the gang plank, grab on to the rails and lower ourselves into a waiting lifeboat. The life vests tend to restrict the amount you can turn your head so conversation is kept to a minimum. As we motor away toward the shore we perspire, some sleep and catch glimpses of the fishermen in their small wooden canoes. The barge where we disembark is as tall as the lifeboat so a bit of gymnastics is required to exit the boat. We clamber up side, across the top of the barge, over a wooden walkway and then load onto the awaiting buses. Since we travel through an area which requires a military escort we are usually sandwiched between troops armored personnel carriers and trucks filled with troops from Chile, Brazil, Uruguay or whichever UN peacekeepers are on tap that day to provide the escort. We arrive at camp and then disembark for what little piece of desk we've been able to carve out. I average no more than a couple days in each spot before I relocate. At time of writing I am sitting on a folding chair, computer in my lap watching the battery run down. The evening is the exact opposite: we all pile on to buses, snake through town, descend into the lifeboats after donning our life vests, then sit silently, again some sleeping, as we make our way back to the ship. Thankfully, dinner is waiting and there is a bit of WiFi so that we can chat with our loved ones before turning in. A short while later the process repeats itself. Through it all everyone is a good sport. Nerves are frayed, people are exhausted and tempers do flare but everyone does their best to keep them in check. The crew of the ship is fantastic and always in high spirits, the bus drivers are professional, the soldiers are accommodating and the ship is comfortable. Some people may take umbrage with the fact that we live on a chartered vessel but in a place where a large number of people are without shelter, existing structures are suspect and the heat and humidity are brutal yet still climbing it makes complete sense to live on a ship. Those individuals who have worked in the field for any amount of time realize the importance of being able to get a good meal, a good night's sleep and shower in the morning. One's ability to power on through the tough times is contingent upon (amongst other things) food, sleep and good hygiene. In the short run you can survive almost anything, but if you plan on staying for any amount of time then you'd better be sure to take care of yourself. If you don't, The results could be disastrous for both you and your teammates. I would like to take a moment to thank the team in Rome who chartered the vessel, the Captain and crew of the Sea Voyager, all those involved with getting us to and from the ship and my shipmates who all show incredible patience and who know just how important our floating home really is.
On March 4th, the barge Connor with the tug Miss Cloe, both US flag, arrived in Cap Haitien in the northern most part of Haiti. Loaded with 6,993 metric tonnes of rice, the vessel began unloading a few days later after a rain delay. For the duration of the discharge, WFP Port Captain Piotr Drozdowski has supervised the process. He has been sending us regular updates and keeping us informed of the progress. A standard dispatch from the field reads as follows: Barge Connor discharging on March 8th morning with 3 gangs. More than 20 trucks for delivery to WFP Cap Haitien WH ready. Hatch 1&2 PS and 3&4 SS open. Now 1,2 and 4 working. The barge has 4 HO (actually 8 separate HO as each is divided by longitudinal bulkhead into PS and SS) /8HA, double bottom which is empty and has no ballast capacity, therefore Master needs to control trim, list, stability by adjusting rate of discharge of the cargo from each hold which will slow down the ops a little bit. It is an interesting look into the day-to-day dialogue and activities of the people that keep the food moving here in this challenging context. The 50kg sacks are bagged in larger bags which are fittingly referred to as 'Jumbo bags'. They were loaded into the hull of the ship in Jacintoport, Houston. On arrival in Cap Haitien mobile cranes bought by the barge owner and placed on deck of the barge began unloading on the morning of March 8th. Each Jumbo bag is loaded with approximately 18 bags of rice. The mobile cranes placed on deck of the barge can lift only one, or - with limited reach - two Jumbo bags, while the stevedores' mobile crane onshore can lift six totalling 5.5 metric tonnes per lift. At time of writing five cranes and five unloading gangs were working from dawn to dusk. It is estimated that at this rate the barge will finish discharging its load on the 17th of March.
I wake up every night at about 3am. At least I have been since Monday. I don't think the adrenaline has subsided. I am still thinking about the delivery and how it went after we left. I was only supposed to observe the discharge of food in Anse-a-Veau but ended up managing the logistics, along with my fellow WFP staff member Neima Ahmed, over a four day period. That is the reality of aid work in the field - you are often asked to handle tasks other than your own. The experience is still with me. As I wrote in my last piece, Anse-a-Veau is a small town on the coast of Haiti situated about 60 miles west of Port-au-Prince. It has been in desperate need of food since recent flooding raised the water level at the nearby river crossing from its normally passable 1m height to 8m, making it impossible for supply trucks to cross. As a result, food convoys that WFP had sent into the region were forced to turn back at the river's edge approximately 6km west of town. The British naval vessel RFA Largs Bay, which had been made available to the UN by the British government's Department for International Development (DFID), offered to take on the task of moving the goods by sea and then ferrying them ashore by means of a shallow draft raft system, otherwise known as a Mexeflote. The ship had been in the region for several weeks and, although it had assisted with moving food from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives, its crew was looking for some land-side action. We left Saturday night after the loading was completed. In the hull of ship sat 24,749 MREs, 630 bags of rice (50kg), 126 bags of beans (50kg), 210 bags of CSB (25kg), 190 cartons full of bottles of oil, 11 bags of salt (50kg). It was a massive amount of cargo that had taken the crew three days to load with the help of heavy lift vehicles. We would soon find out that those vehicles would be all but useless in Anse-a-Veau and that human power was going to be the only means possible by which to bring the food ashore. Early Sunday morning, after arriving off the coast of Anse-a-Veau, we were alerted to the fact that small wooden canoes were coming alongside the boat. Inside on of the canoes was Pere David Fontaine who had seen our light at 4am and was desperately awaiting our arrival. He climbed the rope ladder that had been dropped down the side, he was then escorted to the Captain's Ian Johnson's cabin where the Captain, Neima, Jamie Secker W01 with the Royal Logistics Corps and I met with him to discuss how best to get the food ashore. After working out a plan, Pere David headed for the beach to prepare the community for the arrival of the food. As the winds were strong on Sunday the crew was unable to operate the Mexeflote so the diving team on board used the opportunity to check depths in the harbor. Two teams set off for the beach and arrived several hours later with a detailed chart of depths and navigational hazards. Based on this information the loading commenced the following morning, the winds having died down overnight. Over the next three days we offloaded the bulk of the MREs, rice, beans, CSB, salt and oil. The raft made a total of seven runs from the ship to the shore between Monday and Wednesday. It took between 100 and 300 people passing the boxes and bags hand to hand over 1.5 hours to unload each large barge. By Wednesday the crowd had thinned considerably as the unloading took its toll on everyone involved. Some of the community members would walk 6km each way every day just to assist with the offloading. It was an incredible event with nearly the entire contingent of Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Army Royal Logistics Corps (led by Captain Chris Heyworth) and Royal Marine personnel taking part in the unloading. Every day a new set of volunteers would arrive from the ship and stand knee deep in the brackish water for hours on end and assist the community with passing the boxes of food ashore. Naval personnel also assisted with repairing Pere David's generator and solar water distillation unit which he was using to produce clean water for the community and refugees recently arrived from Port-au-Prince. One group from the ship even collected pens, paper, and supplies from the stores onboard and donated them to the local school. In addition to moving MREs and oil ashore onboard the Mexeflote, a smaller landing craft was used to ferry the bags of rice, beans, CSB and salt to a shallow beach area approximately 40m upriver. The community was energized by the arrival of the bulk material and volunteers helping with the unloading even asked to carry two 50kg bags instead of one. The energy of the crowd was very positive and there was never any sense of insecurity. The local police were present to assist and proved very helpful. Men and women of all ages helped with transferring food from the barge and loading the trucks which cycled continuously between the beach and warehouses. By Wednesday most of the ship had been unloaded and it was necessary for us to return to Port-au-Prince. The ship's crew was set to offload the last delivery Thursday morning. We said our goodbyes after a quick and wonderful lunch at Pere David's home and then hustled to the landing zone for a helicopter pick-up. We flew back to Port-au-Prince sunburned, exhausted and happy that we had succeeded in unloading the vessel.
I didn't think we would go today. Someone told me last night that the forecast was for rain. As the sun rose this morning there was the usual mist and clouds hovering on the peaks that stand above Port-au-Prince but no sign of rain. I was on my way to the remote town of Anse-a-Veau with WFP Port Captain Mary Theresa O'Neil to assess the capacity of the port to handle a sizable shipment of food. Accompanying us would be three officers from the RFA Largs Bay, a British naval vessel that was currently anchored off Port-au-Prince. As we left the Sea Voyager, a ship which has become our floating home in Port-au-Prince harbor, and made our way into shore we could see the RFA Largs Bay standing off a fair distance. All night its lights had silently drifted past our windows as we swung at anchor. The RFA Largs Bay is a massive Royal Navy 16,000-tonne Bay Class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) which is currently assisting WFP with food distribution around Haiti. Its helm stands several stories above the waterline and its rear deck is the size the size of a football pitch. Inside, as Mary puts it, it is very "James Bondish" with a rear entry area that allows a Mexeflote motorized raft to effortlessly dock in her stern. In the midst of landing troops and equipment in various locations around the world for training purposes, the Largs Bay was redirected to Haiti to assist the UN with moving food and humanitarian relief supplies into shallow draft ports. After arriving on the beach Mary and I met up with the Captain of the RFA Largs Bay, Ian Johnson and and British Army officers Capt Chris Heyworth and WO1 Jamie Secker. We proceeded immediately to the Log Base adjacent the international airport to catch our flight. A short while later we were airborne on board an UNHAS Mi-171 and preparing to head west toward the small coastal town of Anse-a-Veau. The plan is for the Largs Bay to offload approximately 400 pallets of food to feed the population of approximately 5,500 people. The RFA Largs Bay is a big ship and we were heading off to see if the tiny port could handle the distribution. The helicopter was heavily loaded with 288 cartons, twelve individual packs in each carton, of Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) which would provide enough nutrition to the several thousand beneficiaries in the region until Largs Bay could deliver the main shipment later in the week. The Mi-171 strained under the heavy load as the seasoned Ukrainian pilots hovered meters over the airstrip while checking the balance of the aircraft. Minutes later we were heading down the coast with fresh air flowing in through open windows. Anse-a-Veau is a small city. Half of it is perched on a cliff above the sea and the remaining half is nestled in an area at the end of a small bay. Many of the structures are built of wood and plaster and they suffered light to moderate damage during the recent earthquake. Concrete structures fared the worst and a number of individuals were displaced - they are now staying with family members and in makeshift shelters. After landing on a open, green field outside of town we were greeted by numerous children, some on horseback, and several members of the community. Father Casemel Enauld was also there to meet us and served as our liaison with the community. After loading several vehicles with the MRE's we set out for town. Anse-a-Veau is a beautiful town filled with incredibly nice people. As we drove through the streets people constantly waved and shouted greetings. Our first stop was an overlook at the mouth of the small bay. The team dismounted and made its way through a vacant compound to the edge of a jungle clad cliff. After 15 minutes of discussion it was decided that it would be possible to approach the shore close enough to offload the goods and that there was not enough swell to cause concern. We reloaded the trucks and headed down to the head of the small bay. As we passed through town we saw both timber frame structures coated in pastel colors and stone structures with ornate columns that have fallen into disrepair. The small group of fishermen that live at the harbor occupy several buildings that lie along the approach route. Piled between the structures and draped across lines strung from trees were white nets that were in the process of being repaired by their owners. Canoes dug out from what must have been massive trees were pulled up on shore and pigs routed through the conch shells, rubbish and chunks of coral that lay scattered on the ground. As the naval team and the WFP Port captain scouted the location, WFP's Antoine Renard served as translator. Formally, a Program Officer and now with Private Donor Relations, Antoine helped to gather information about port access, available watercraft, personnel available to assist with unloading and many other issues that are critical to a successful waterborne operation. After 30 minutes of discussion the team finally felt confident that the delivery, while challenging, could be made. We loaded the vehicles and as we drove away a boy wearing blue over-sized boots, a marching band hat and carrying a machete snapped a casual salute. En route to the airfield Father Enauld pleaded with us to stay for a lunch that his sister had already started preparing. Antoine was extremely apologetic but also explained that the helicopter needed to return to make additional trips and any delay would severely inconvenience others. We all would have loved to stay for lunch but unfortunately it was not an option. We continued to the field to board the helicopter and begin our journey home. As the engines cranked up and we prepared to leave a group of policemen arrived with take away boxes full of food that were bundled in plastic bags. Air Logistics Officer Emmanuel Jarry dashed through the rotor wash and returned with the packages of food. We gave the crowd a thumbs up as and waved as we took off and then settled in to enjoy the food. We opened the boxes to find a wonderful meal of fried plantain, fish in sauce and fresh tomatoes. As we flew along the coastline we filled ourselves with a great meal courtesy of the kind people of Anse-a-Veau. The mission was a success. As soon as we landed the team was placing calls to all the key people to commence operations and to prepare the Largs Bay for transit to the coast off Anse-a-Veau. Loading began a few hours later and continues as I write this. I will be covering the delivery and will post follow on stories in a few days time. Until now enjoy the pictures below and be sure to follow the RFA Largs Bay Haiti Diary.
Every month WFP Logistics puts together an internal Bulletin to inform and involve Logistics staff of activities carried out across the world. Recently we put together a special edition focusing on the Haiti emergency and the WFP teams remarkable efforts. It contained stories about the different areas we work in - Aviation, shipping etc.. giving lots of facts and figures about how much food we have moved, how many aircraft we have moblised etc.. Informative, yes. However, feedback before we published came in - 'Where's the human side? The stats come in daily. Tell us about our staff down there. What is life like for them?' And so, what has it been like for those on the ground? The answer: 'Exhausting!'. Take a look. Many thanks to our team on the ground and thanks to Franck Aynes and Aaron Holmes for the photos.
The cargo area at Las Americas Airport in Santo Domingo is hot at midday. The ocean breeze coming from the nearby coast drifts lazily over the warrens of warehousing units and affords little relief from the Caribbean sun which hangs high overhead. The air is choked with dust and exhaust from the multitudes of forklifts, trucks, motorcycles and big rigs that ply the narrow streets. Jam packed with air cargo containers and pallets of relief items the place is crawling with human forms that strain and sweat under the weight of the items they struggle to load. I am visiting the site today with Karim El Hamraui who is seconded to the Logistics Cluster from his parent company TNT. Karim is young and sharp and easily flips through a repetoire of six languages. His Spanish is good and he has quickly become friends with WFP's talented customs specialist Sandra Torres who hails from WFP's Nicaragua office. Even though this is Karim's first humanitarian mission as part of the Logistics Emergency Teams (LET), an initiative between TNT, UPS and Agility, it is clear that Karim was made for this type of work. The talents he brings with him from his logistics job at the TNT headquarters in Liege, Belgium are proving invaluable and odds are you'll be seeing him on other LET missions in the not too distant future. As we stand amidst the noise and chaos of the loading bays a silver compact rental car turns the nearby corner and pulls to a stop. The two men inside, both deeply tanned and built like Pit Bulls step out from the cramped interior. Sporting boots, cargo pants and bush hats they look like they just loaded a couple dozen trucks on their own and the beads of sweat are the only indication that punishing heat and strenuous work taxes them at all. The two men cross the street and immediately start calling the shots with the men they have come to know well. They are John Vera and Bill Torres and they're UPS' contribution to the LET team. Both are fluent in Spanish and clearly at ease in the world of logistics. They've known each other for over a decade and this isn't the first time they have willingly left their jobs at the UPS operations center in Miami, Florida to help the people of Haiti. During the devestating hurricane season of 2008, John and Bill were dispatched to the region and spent weeks on helicopters dropping food on mountaintops across Haiti. The work they are doing now is much different but they still love it just the same. The fourth member of the LET contingent is a hard working Dutchman named Michael Kalkman who is also seconded from TNT. At any time of the day you will see him hunched over a laptop and stacks of paperwork with mobile phones held to each ear. He talks on them so much that he leaves them prepetually plugged in and has to crane his neck to accomodate the tiny little cords. He rarely moves from the seat he has occupied since long before Karim's arrival. During emergencies time is measured in hours and Michael has spent more hours in that chair, talking on the phone and tracking incoming air cargo than I care to imagine. Michael is a family man and you'll sometimes see him taking a quick break to look at pictures of his kids that you can tell he misses dearly and who are waiting for him back in Holland. All of these men, and the companies they work for, have made great sacrifices to backstop the Logistics Cluster and help the Haitian people at the request of WFP, the Logistics Cluster lead agency. By bringing their specialized expertise in air operations, fleet management and other areas of logistics, they have added considerable force to the Logistics Cluster's actions. The convoys of trucks carrying lifesaving materials that are streaming over the border into Haiti are due, in part, their efforts as are the air freight shipments flying out of La Isabela Airport. Without the professional commitment from their parent companies, WFP and the Logistics Cluster would be forced to redeploy assets from other ongoing operations. As a testament to their effectiveness, the Logistics Cluster has called upon LET for even more personnel to join their teammates in the field and take part in what is becoming one of the most important humanitarian operations in recent memory.
When you leave the runway in Santo Domingo, the earth falls away - quickly replaced by verdant green jungle cloaking the rolling hills to the west of the city. Tropical haze soon separates you from the ground and you can only make out soft forms passing far below. Off to the east smoke-stacks punctuate the grey cityscape and the gentle curve of the jagged coast cuts to the horizon. Eventually, the coastline emerges from the mist and a ribbon of sand runs between the azure blue sea and the hardscrabble foliage. Salt ponds add geometry to the flatlands and wisps of sand spin off peninsulas like wet smoke. The drone of the Caravan's turbo prop starts to numb you and you slowly drift off in a daze. The anticipation of arriving has doped you with adrenaline and the chemical's ebb has given way to a trembling fatigue. There is no longer chatter in the plane's cabin as each individual tries to reconcile the stark beauty of the landscape below against the images of crushed souls that are embedded in one's head courtesy of headline news. I’m grateful that the flight path has let me see another side of Haiti. Unfortunately, few others will ever have this opportunity. They are stuck with devastation and images of tragedy. They'll lie awake thinking about those who were trapped, those with amputated limbs and pray that the same never happens to them. Myrta Kaulard, WFP Country Director for Haiti, told us a few days ago that what happened was "..far beyond a disaster." I am fairly certain that the human body was not built to cope with whatever that is. I could write about the psyche of the aid worker, and how we spend our lives balancing that 'beyond' with memories of the people we helped save - but emergencies are not about us. No, we're just a footnote to the tragedy. We have the good fortune of showing up after the earthquake, unlike some of our associates who lived through it. As aid workers we are often spared the first few hours and days of crisis but perhaps that is the problem. We see the middle and not the start nor the finish. Our lives are swathes of disasters which are stitched together with home, family, and sometimes drink. Port-au-Prince emerges from behind the prop and it is impossible to see the collapsed homes of the Haitian people. Blue tarps are visible clumped together in open lots and in front of the Presidential Palace. A flotilla of ships is anchored in the bay and the wakes of their tenders show you that help is on its way. The orderly rows of military tents occupy strips of beachfront real estate and a child's collection of model planes, helicopters, etc lines the runway. The density of buildings, roads and people is staggering, and you begin to realize why the logistics have been so difficult. I am landing now in a new country, one time zone behind the last one and light years behind the rest of the world in terms of condition. I'll stay for only a few hours and feel guilty for not staying longer. However, I have no choice as the outpouring of goodwill leaves me without a bed for the night. Sadly, and for one brief moment, I can only fractionally comprehend the fate of nine million Haitians. I want to give them the shirt off my back but I know from years of experience that it will do them little good. The massive engines of the aid machine have blown smoke and are winding up to a fever pitch. I can no longer hear the plane's motor as my senses are completely overwhelmed by what lies below. My contribution is but a murmur yet, by virtue of my occupation, I get to know that it matters. Today the distribution is in full swing and while some will say it is not enough I know that tonight a boy my son's age will be able to eat. I want to go home. I want to hug my kid, my wife and lie in bed and pray that if the earth shakes under my home I will never have to experience the same fate as the Haitian people. Touchdown.
I can't remember how long I have been here. I am not sure anyone can. There are no windows and the light is flat and grey. In the aviation office it is even worse - Paolo looks like he is about to collapse. He processes hundreds of request daily for a few dozen open seats and constantly answers calls from aid workers who are both hopped up on adrenaline and sagging under the weight of jet lag. Irving hasn't seen daylight in ten days and his skin is pale and his eyes bloodshot. Jayne finally took a break but only managed to pass out cold for 45 minutes. When she woke up she couldn't tell if she had slept for five minutes or five hours. The aviation guys in the office ask me what the airplanes they manage look like so I show them the photos I have taken on the ramp out at the airport. The only evidence in this office of the massive flow of passengers and cargo moving through Santo Domingo are keyboard clicks and muted phone conversations. You might call these people quiet heroes but none of them would ever accept that description. There are no heroes here - they are all in Haiti. Whatever we do we do for the people of Haiti and for our colleagues that continue to return on UNHAS flights looking shattered and haunted.