• When a bucket is not a bucket - Standardizing relief items: Part III

    In Part I and Part II of this series we presented examples which made it clear why there is a need for standardizing the nomenclature and reference numbering of relief items. The initial need for this generic nomenclature was supply tracking. Common nomenclature enables aid workers to quickly and easily obtain an overall supply response overview during emergencies and to pull together total levels of the strategic stockpiles held by each organisation. We wanted to create a simple methodology but sometimes “simple” can be difficult to implement. However, not long ago ago we achieved our goal. The result was the interagency standard nomenclature for relief items. First of all, we determined that the nomenclature and the name are the same thing. We then produced a twelve digit standard for each item which is constructed as follows:  AAA BBB CCC DDD AAA is the three letter abbreviation of the cluster, e.g. SHE for the Shelter cluster BBB is the item category, e.g. TEN for tent CCC is the item family, e.g. COM for community tent DDD is the item identifier, e.g. HOT for hot weather community tent So the item reference is 'SHE-TEN-COM-HOT'. You can see how this is different from a 'hot weather family tent' which would show as: ‘SHE-TEN-FAM-HOT”. This used to be called 'Tent, family, 16m2, single fly w/ground sheet' by the IFRC, 'Light weight em. tent, 16.5m2' by UNHCR and 'tente familiale, 16m2, tapis + simple toit' by MSF. Now, with our new commonly accepted nomenclature we can finally call a bucket, a bucket! We agreed that we would maintain our own internal numbering structure for all of our own catalogs, procurement systems, labeling etc. supplying one master list of all the items. Each agency would then make a 'translation table' converting the common naming to the agency specific nomenclature. Who will make up the names and specifications for each item moving forward? It will mostly be an exercise between Logistics Clusters. It was agreed that each Cluster will coordinate the naming convention for their own items. Does that make us excited? You bet it does! We can now call a bucket a 'WAS-BUC-WAT-HAN'! and everyone will know that what we are talking about is a 'Water and Sanitation cluster, Bucket suited for Water with Handle'!

  • WFP Charters Boeing 747 To Deliver Critical Humanitarian Supplies To The Philippines

    A second load of humanitarian relief items has touched down in Manila. A Boeing 747, chartered by the WFP Aviation unit, was loaded with 96 metric tonnes of relief items by our colleagues at the UNHRD base in Brindisi before it departed for the Philippines. The shipment included first aid kits, generators, inflatable boats and high energy biscuits (HEB's) which are now being distributed to beneficiaries on the ground. Typhoon Ketsana savaged the Philippines when it swept through SE Asia early last week. Special thanks to the WFP Aviation unit and the UNHRD team in Brindisi!

  • First Relief Shipments On The Ground In The Philippines

    Earlier this week, as residents of the Philippines began cleaning up the destruction wrought by Typhoon Ketsana, the UNHRD team in Brindisi was busy loading and dispatching relief supplies to the area. After several days of transit the supplies are now on the ground and currently being distributed through the appropriate channels. The first shipment consisted of blankets, generators, water tanks and various other items donated by the Italian government all of which were loaded onboard an Airbus A-310. The flight was chartered through the team in Brindisi by the Italian government and departed from the UNHRD base on Oct 5th.

  • More than a warm smile - Remembering our colleagues in Islamabad.

    Yesterday morning, chilling news came in: ISLAMABAD, Pakistan. -- An apparent suicide bomber set off an explosion inside the heavily guarded office of the United Nations' World Food Programme killing at least five people and wounding five others. (...) The agency listed the confirmed fatalities as an Iraqi information and communication technology officer, Botan Ahmed Ali al-Hayawi, and four Pakistanis: Abid Rehman, a senior finance assistant; Gulrukh Tahir, a receptionist; Farzana Barkat, an office assistant; and Mohammed Wahab, a finance assistant. (Full) Farzana worked in the Islamabad Logistics division. Our colleague Dima Hatuqa, said it so well: "To me, Farzana was more than a warm smile." Dima tells her story: I arrived in Islamabad on 22 May to support the Logistics Cluster activities in response to the IDP (Internally Displaced People) crisis. It was my first time in a country which I knew very little, apart from a few stories I heard from colleagues. "This is not Pakistan", the driver told me on our way to the office. "Pakistan is a beautiful country that has never seen this type of atmosphere, this insecurity. The Pakistani people are very friendly and peaceful. Its very sad what's happening in our country". Farzana was one of the first people I met when I arrived in the country office. I was tired and confused. My colleague Tony led me to the logistics section in the basement where he found us a few temporary empty spots next to Farzana's desk. Introducing myself and apologising for using her stationery, Farzana smiled and welcomed me in the office. She asked me whether I had needed anything and offered to take me shopping explaining very politely that "the jeans looked great but might not work in some places". This was my chance to know more about this beautiful young woman who carried so much more than her warm smile. She told me stories about her country, her family and her ambitions. She too was sad about the current situation and was missing the days where she had the freedom to go to the market, gym and restaurants. Having lived and worked in similar conditions, I felt I had a lot to share with Farzana who, at 22, was very happy and proud to work with WFP's Logistics team in Islamabad. Farzana as we will remember her. A few weeks later, the Pearl Intercontinental Hotel in Peshawar was heavily damaged by a suicide car bomb. This tragic incident shook us all, especially our ten staff who witnessed and survived the incident. I was amazed to see how Farzana and the rest of our colleagues in the country office were supportive and dedicated to continue supporting the operation despite this incident. Two weeks went by and I was due to return to my duty station. I had very mixed feelings after a very intense month of living and working under such an unpredictable and insecure environment. I had missed my partner, my family and friends, but in Farzana, I was already missing a friend. Farzana and I exchanged gifts - she gave me her black dress and shawl and I gave her my WFP logistics t-shirt. We smiled and said goodbye, not knowing we would not meet again. Today, like many others, my thoughts go out to the families and friends of our lost colleagues, who will always be remembered as people before being remembered as aid workers. I wish our friends and colleagues in Pakistan all the strength during this sad and difficult moment. Something Dima wrote, stroke a chord inside of me: It is easy to think of us, as abstract "things". Figures. Statistics. Job titles "aid workers", "UN employees", "office assistant". We are often generalized. Symbols. Symbols of the battle against human misery, symbols of hope, symbols of whatever. Some put us on a pedestral. The ultimate "good do-er", the idealists. The "warriors of peace". The "infantry forces of poverty". Others see us as targets. As enemies. As evil to be rooted out, by whatever means. But in essence, we are none of the above. We are sons and daughters of our parents. We are brothers and sisters of our siblings. We are husbands and wives. We are mothers and fathers of our children. We are friends to our loved ones. We are made out of flesh and blood. We have our ambitions, we have our struggles. We are not just "aidworkers". We are "human". We are "people". We know the risks we take. We try to live with that risk, day by day. We do get scared. We do worry about ourselves, our colleagues. And we weep when, yet again, we loose a colleague. Not because each of us knew Farzana, Abid, GulRukh, Mohammad or Botan, but because we share the same work and the same life. When a senseless violent tragedy like yesterday's bombing hits one of our offices, when yet again one of us passes away, we see a shattered life. We see the suffering of the families. The tears of colleagues. But above all, we see a face, and hear their voice. Voices which we won't hear anymore. Laughter which won't be around anymore. I hope you do too, and remember them not as symbols, statistics, abstract "things", but as people. People we had as colleagues and friends. Farzana, Abid, GulRukh, Mohammad or Botan: Ma'salama. We bid you farewell. You will not be forgotten. See the video statement of Josette Sheeran, WFP's Executive Director, on the attack of our Islamabad office. Picture courtesy The Nation. Thanks to Dima and Philippe for their contribution to this post.

  • When A Bucket Is Not A Bucket - Standardizing Relief Items: Part II

    In Part I of this series we sketched the outline of an imaginary emergency: A mountainous area in Central Asia had been hit by an earthquake causing major structural damage and significant loss of life. In our scenario the roads in the region were heavily damaged which limited access to the outside world and humanitarian relief efforts had kicked off with a massive airlift of relief items. We predicted the humanitarian coordinator would lose nights of sleep, because of “the bucket issue". What do we mean by this? Following our example, the international humanitarian community (i.e. governments, UN agencies and NGOs) were asked to donate relief items or funds to procure and ship the necessary items. Long lists of needed items were broadcast. And here is where “the issue of the bucket” comes in: One bucket is different from the next. You have 10 liter and 20 liter buckets; buckets with handles and buckets without; buckets with and without lids; buckets suited for hauling sand and buckets suited for hauling water; buckets for food and buckets used for sanitation purposes. This might sound silly but it is not. It is a common issue with ALL relief items. A bucket is not a bucket, just as much as a car is not a car, and a crane is not a crane. It would not be the first time thin cotton tents arrived for an earthquake response in an area at an altitude of 1,500m in the winter. Nor would it be the first time that family tents were received when what were really needed were kitchen tents, hospital tents and school tents. Just as the right tent can mean a difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people in our earthquake scenario, the right sanitation equipment is just as critical. Have you ever received water pumps but not the generators needed to power them? Perhaps you received the generators but quickly realized that they ran on petrol when only diesel was locally available? And, to top it all off, the generators you received produced 110 volts while the pumps required 220 volts? In our scenario food storage buckets with lids were needed so that families could keep their flour away from rats and vermin. What was ultimately provided were 5 liter children potties all in orange which, of course, happens to be the colour of the local extremist rebel group. Now do you understand what we are talking about? We’re talking about the standardization of relief items.  When an organisation talks about budget reference number XYZ we want to ensure other organisations know exactly what that organisation is talking about. Until a short while ago the humanitarian community did not collaborate on standardization issues. We all had our own standards and our own specifications. How then, could we all respond to an emergency and ensure that we did not send twice as much of one item while sending half the required quantity of another?  This has now become easier. We have finally agreed upon a common definition for the term 'bucket'. In other words, we have standardized the nomenclature of relief items. In Part III of this series we will describe the system we use to expand the nomenclature of relief items.  

  • When A Bucket Is Not A Bucket – Standardizing Relief Items: Part I

    Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #1- October 3 2010 10:20 GMT. Two hours ago, we experienced 7.8 earthquake with the epicenter in “Faraway”, one of the mountaneous regions in our country. We have reports of major structural damages and significant loss of life in the two district capitals, each with 200,000 inhabitants. The structural damage includes destruction of vital road, power, communications, water and sanitation infrastructures. Houses and public facilities are said to have been severely damaged, if not totally destroyed.  With the winter approaching, the international humanitarian community will work with the government to assure an appropriate response to this emergency.  (signed) John Hakim, Humanitarian Coordinator Faristan Central Asia While this is an imaginary (and simplified) example of an event notification we have seen similar ‘flash’ messages numerous times during our years as aid workers. From flooding in Mozambique, to hurricanes hitting Haiti, to earthquakes in China and the dreaded tsunami hitting Asia a few years ago such messages are Many agencies and NGOs are geared to respond immediately to alert bulletins like these. Most organizations have internal ‘scripts’ or ‘activation protocols’ for mobilizing staff and preparing emergency equipment to be flown into the affected area. Most sudden emergencies occur – unfortunately – on such a massive scale that no single organization can provide all the support needed. Most organizations specialize in one or a few areas of expertise: health care, sanitation, food, shelter, medical supplies, education, infrastructural support, etc. The key is for the humanitarian community to work together, a daunting task knowing that anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred organizations will respond to a major event. Each organization has its own procedures, its own funding mechanism, its own speciality within humanitarian relief and its own way “of doing things”. Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #2- October 3 2010 12:35 GMT. We collected more details on the earthquake with the epicenter in the “Faraway” region. It is clear the area is cut off from the outside world, due to the collapse of bridges on the two main roads leading to the two district towns of “Farville” and “Awaytown”. Mudslides have either severely damaged or blocked secondary roads. There is no more public communications as the satellite earthstation in Farville suffered major damage. Electricity is cut off due to the collapse of several masts supporting the power lines. (signed) John Hakim, Humanitarian Coordinator Faristan Central Asia Once again, this is not an unusual scenario. Not only are a large number of people affected (i.e. two towns with 200,000 people each) but the response time is also critically important as organizations will need to bring in all supplies before winter hits. If people no longer have shelter, because their homes are destroyed, then the death toll during the post-earthquake period could be higher than the number of people killed by the earthquake itself. A destroyed road infrastructure will mean airlifting equipment. This means that various types of aircraft (planes and/or helicopters) will need to be brought in to provide airlift capabilities. Knowing it is a mountainous area means there will probably be a limit in to the aircrafts' lifting capacity – the higher the altitude the less weight aircraft can carry at take-off and landing. The moment we talk about ‘airlift’ we immediately begin talking of ‘limited access’ to transport. If a disaster area has road access then often the local trucking capacity is sufficient to bring in supplies. It certainly is far, far, far cheaper than airlifting amterials. Airlifts are ALWAYS expensive and ALWAYS have limited capacity. Using airlifts, we will have to ensure every item we airlift, it is a needed item. If not we waste the limited transport capacity, capacity which could have been used for something that was actually needed. Meanwhile another broadcast comes in: Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #3- October 4 2010 14:35 GMT. A response team was part of the government teamassessment of the emergency in the “Faraway” region. While the details will follow, we would like to appeal to the international humanitarian community for the following equipment: - emergency shelter, blankets, sanitation and water storage/purification equipment for 400,000 people - search and rescue teams and equipment - emergency power equipment - ground clearing and heavy lifting equipment - self sufficient medical teams and the list goes on and on… One thing I can assure you of is that at this point I would no longer want to be in the shoes of Mr.John Hakim, the humanitarian coordinator. From now on, for the next 3-4 months, he will have many sleepless nights. And you know what he will loose sleep on? He will loose sleep on the subject of “buckets”. Why buckets? Stay tuned for Part II.    

  • Alastair Cook - Logistics In The Mountains Of Malawi

    Several weeks ago we published the first in a series of posts highlighting the work of WFP Logistics Officer, Alastair Cook. It has been a while since Alastair worked in Malawi but we thought we'd bring attention to the situation in the country for our second post. We provide you with an excerpt from Alastair's journal as well as a wonderful video that he created which documents the AIDS epidemic ravaging the country. AIDS, in addition to hunger, has had a devastating impact on Malawi but WFP is working to improve the situation. Alastair took the time to record a first person account of the situation on the ground. Admittedly, his video is a bit difficult to watch but please be sure to read through the text to the end as Alastair closes on a positive note. Kasungu district has over 200 schools but 44 have been targeted by the UN World Food Program (WFP) to be part of the School Feeding Program (SFP). My job will be to improve the facilities at these schools, in particular the kitchen and food preparation facilities. WFP has targeted schools as vital link in the battle to break this chain of poverty where a primary education can make a significant contribution. By providing a meal at school parents are encouraged to send their children to school and if the girls and orphans attend for at least 18 days a month they earn the right to take home a valuable 50kg bag of maize which is the stable diet in Malawi.   Alastair serves food from the school kitchen he helped restore. Photo: WFP/Alastair Cook So going back to Chibisa School, the first of the 44 schools we plan to visit. My first vision was seeing a class of 97 small children sitting neatly under a large tree attentively listening to the teacher whose only equipment was a very old blackboard. They were all reciting after him their multiplication tables, their enthusiasm was easy to hear and already I was captivated by what I heard. As I climbed out of our four-wheel drive vehicle and began to walk across the 50 metres of dust and in the centre of the school yard I saw a tiny tree, only a few centimetres tall, struggling to grow. Some caring person had also recognised this and placed some twigs around it as protection. At that very moment I realised that what I was looking at had a direct parallel with what I could hear, hope and optimism, the future of Malawi… at the moment Malawi could do with a lot more of this. View Malawi in a larger map Special thanks to: Alastair Cook and the entire WFP Malawi team!

  • Gallery: WFP Consultant Diego Fernandez Photographs The World

    Diego Fernandez works as a consultant for WFP’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response (OMEP) in Rome. Prior to his arrival at headquarters Diego held various positions in the field in both Sudan and Indonesia. While at his duty station Diego, an avid photographer, found time to capture his world on film. He has been kind enough to share with us his extraordinary photographs of life in the field and WFP operations. The photos were taken throughout North, South and West Darfur and cover daily life as well as various aspects of WFP Logistics operations. Please be sure to visit Diego's personal site to see the rest of his wonderful images. His work has also been covered by CNN. All photos copyright: WFP/Diego Fernandez Special thanks to: Diego Fernandez and the entire OMEP team!

  • The Last Airlift To Akobo, South Sudan

    We just received an update from Mats Persson, WFP's Head Of Sub-Office in Bor, South Sudan: I just returned from Akobo 5 minutes ago. Today, the MI-26 completed the last airlift to Akobo. Since the 18th of June WFP has been continously been delivering food from both Bor and Juba with the help of the MI-26. The massive helicopter has completed a total of 54 lifts. In addition, a WFP chartered Buffalo has completed 76 runs to the same location from Bor and Loki. 820 MT (metric tonnes) of food has been airlifted over a period of 3 months. Yesterday evening the first full run of barges since the June attacks arrived and are offloading approximately 100MT of food as I write. There was to be a distribution today at the airstrip for 15,000 IDPs but due to yet another rumor of an impending attack the IDPs were reluctant to gather at the airstrip. An additional 3000 MT of food are being shipped by barge to the Akobo area. This will help to further reduce the cost of delivery. The situation in Akobo still remain tense. Please see the attached pictures which show the Mi-26; boats and barges used for food transport; the WFP security boat and the WFP warehouse in Akobo. Special thanks to: Mats Persson, Head of Sub-Office, and the entire South Sudan team!

  • Humanitarian logistics: as we are all in it together

    I got to know WFP when I started as an aidworker for IFRC in Angola back in 1994. I remember the only way I could send my telecoms cargo to remote upcountry locations, was on planes managed by WFP and UNDPKO (UN peacekeeping). The only way I could fly to Ambriz, a totally isolated enclave north of Luanda, was with a WFP plane. Kinda funny if you think about it: being a novice in the humanitarian world, back then, I did not know the “core business” of WFP – food assistance – but appreciated the organisation for the logistics services it provided to the aid community as a whole… Strange sometimes how live goes. Two years later, I was on the other side of the counter: During the Great Lakes crisis, I started my job in WFP, and worked on the ‘service provision’ end of the supply chain. We assisted our colleagues from NGOs and UN agencies in air lifting their cargo amongst a dozen different bases in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Kenya. Over the past decennia, WFP has developed a massive logistics capacity, which is needed to support our core activities: WFP Logistics delivers 3.9 million tons of food per year ( 2008 figures). Three point nine million tons of food. Line this up in bags of 25 kgs, 6 feet apart and you cover the distance from the earth to the moon. We move food aid by ocean vessel, trucks, river barges, train, air, and if need be, by yaks and mules. Our logistics network stretches from the sea ports in North America, Asia and Europe, all the way to the world’s most remote and hostile places. Just like my reliance on WFP planes back in 1994, many partners and colleagues from the other agencies asked for our support in moving cargo for them. Be it water pumps for CESVI to Dungu in DRC or containers with supplies for UNAMID in Darfur. The support to our colleagues grew organically, and relied a lot on the local expertise and agreements between different agencies at field level. WFP has recognized the criticality of the interagency logistics services, but also saw the clear need to standardize the way we provide these services: how we track cargo for our colleagues, the service levels they can expect. Eighteen months ago, we started a project to streamline all systems and procedures involved in the “Service Provision”. At the same time, we also adapted our financial support systems to cater for the invoicing of these services. This project has now come to fruition. Last week, a comprehensive support package went out to all field logistics officers outlining what services we provide to the aid community. And how we do it. The package includes: Standard templates for service level agreements Forms for Service Requests, proform invoices and invoices The “good practice” procedures The internal financial rules governing the service provision A cost calculation tool which will ensure all service charges are based on actual and “localized” figures (like local labour cost and truck transport rates). Relief items management guidelines Loads of things have evolved since the time I arrived at the WFP office in Luanda with my two aluminium IFRC crates to be sent to Ambriz fifteen years ago. One of the strengths of WFP is our ability to adapt to the demands on the aid community in providing humanitarian assistance faster, cheaper, more effective. It is something we are really proud of (did you smell this already?).. And within WFP Logistics, we are proud to be at the forefront of these changes. Not only for ourselves. We want to ensure the humanitarian community as a whole can benefit from our expertise. After all, we are all working towards the same goals. Eradicate hunger and poverty. (Photos: WFP/Joakim Kembro & Peter Casier)