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Justin Smith worked as a journalist before joining WFP in 2010. He tweets at @justin_eugene
Moving food around a disaster area as vast as the one in Pakistan takes planes, trucks, helicopters and lots of coordination. Transport expert Simon Hacker explains how WFP’s strong suit helps the entire humanitarian community overcome the logistical challenges that come with working in a flood zone.
Life-saving medical supplies were desperately need in the southern Sindh province, but the main roads were under water and the side routes congested with people trying to evacuate.
Simon Hacker came to Pakistan two years ago to support WFP's operation supplying food to people displaced by turmoil along the border with Afghanistan. He has also worked extensively in East Africa.
“It would have taken five days to drive there, and they didn’t have that long,” said Simon Hacker, coordinator of WFP’s logistics machine in Pakistan. “So they asked us for help.”
A dozen phone calls later, a C130 transport plane took off for Sindh carrying WHO's medical cargo, which was then airlifted to a remote flood shelter by helicopter.
The cluster approach
Hacker says phone calls like the one from WHO are a routine part of his job. WFP heads up the UN Emergency Logistics Cluster meaning that other agencies and NGOs depend on its expertise in moving things and people around in adverse conditions.
“There’s no question that when you have a situation like the one in Pakistan with logistical challenges that start with the flood waters and continue with the damage they leave behind, people naturally look to us for help,” he said. “My job is to make sure that they get it."
According to Hacker, that makes for long hours and a varied job description ranging from aerial surveys of road conditions and terrain, daily meetings with government transport officials and lots of time thinking about how to get the most out of finite resources.
Everything in place
Moreover, in an emergency situation like the one in Pakistan, regular office hours go out the window. “I leave office late at night, I’m back at work first thing in the morning and in between I dream about work,” Hacker said. “There’s such a sense of urgency that you feel like you can’t even waste one minute.”
Hacker and his team's hardwork has resulted in a four-hub air operation makeing regular deliveries to the north and south of the country, including an air-bridge to the southern city of Jacobobad, which has been cut off by road for several weeks.
However, he added that there was still a long way to go in helping the millions of people dispossessed by the flooding and that even six weeks into the operation, “there’s still very much the feeling that we’re just getting started here.”