Haiti: Disaster’s Supply Chain

If only it were simply a matter of sticking a needle into the evil supply chain spirits hampering relief to Haiti, millions of people would be much better off at the moment instead of begging and fighting in the streets as aid slowly trickled in. Unfortunately, there is no supply chain voodoo -- only investment, hard work, careful monitoring, skillful execution, and diligent workarounds. Indeed, disaster-site supply chains are fraught with a unique set of challenges, especially when damaged or degraded port and air bottlenecks can’t keep up with supply and demand. A recent post by Adrian Gonzalez over on Logistics Viewpoints (hat-tip: Bob Ferrari) provides some background on the critical nature of supply chain challenges in the context of disaster relief.

Gonzalez suggests that “getting the ‘right product, to the right place, at the right time’ takes on new meaning when roads, airports, bridges, and other logistics infrastructure are severely damaged or destroyed. The immediate spike in demand for food, water, clothing, and medical supplies is an order of magnitude greater than most supply chains are equipped to handle. In short, disaster relief is a unique and specialized type of supply chain and logistics problem.”

For this reason I’ve come to believe that, while immediate donations in the aftermath of such disasters are important, donations will be even more essential in the rebuilding period that follows. I’ve started some research at Spend Matters about the spending effectiveness of various charities involved in the Haiti relief efforts, and hope to share my findings this Friday, prioritizing the group(s) to which we plan to donate, and why, based on their ability to spend wisely and get help into the hands of those who need it most.

Haiti, especially, presents an interesting case in this regard. As a colleague hinted last week, "'Charity' will take on a new meaning in a country where the bulk of GDP was aid (i.e., donations) before the earthquake." Perhaps those charities, aid groups, and NGOs that can teach self-sufficiency and accountability over the long haul -- which is a more expensive investment than simply passing out food, medical supplies, and aiding in the rebuilding effort -- will be the most effective on the ground.

Jason Busch

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