FOCUS: Humanitarian logistics

Humanitarian supply chain director at UPS Esther Ndichu discusses the role Dubai plays in sending supplies to disaster zones.
Dubai is home to the world’s largest and busiest hub for humanitarian aid.
Dubai is home to the world’s largest and busiest hub for humanitarian aid.
Esther Ndichu, humanitarian supply chain director at UPS.
Esther Ndichu, humanitarian supply chain director at UPS.
The UPS Foundation provided $7.5 million toward humanitarian relief in 2013.
The UPS Foundation provided $7.5 million toward humanitarian relief in 2013.


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We all know that over the last decade Dubai has developed into global powerhouse, becoming a commercial and business hub for trade, logistics and transportation, as well as a focal point for people who want to vacation and shop.

There is a different, less talked about side to Dubai, however, with the Emirate emerging as the world’s largest hub for humanitarian aid, thanks in part to its strategic location between the East and the West.

Esther Ndichu, humanitarian supply chain director at UPS, who is based at the company’s European headquarters in Brussels and is responsible for the UPS Foundation’s global humanitarian engagements reveals more. She says the global logistics company has chosen Dubai as its hub operations, based on its strategic location.

Tell me about the role Dubai plays as a humanitarian hub and how it creates connections?
Dubai has acted as a vital import and export hub, connecting East Africa with South Asia. Today, the Emirate hosts the Dubai International Humanitarian City (IHC), the world’s largest and busiest logistics hub for humanitarian aid with nine UN agencies and nearly 50 NGOs and commercial entities as members.

Its location – within eight flight hours from two-thirds of the world’s population – has helped deliver assistance in some of the worst humanitarian crises of the past decade, including the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia; the recurring drought in the Horn of Africa; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; numerous typhoons and cyclones in Southeast Asia and most recently the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.

What are some of the key strengths that make Dubai a humanitarian hub?
There are several factors that contribute to Dubai’s role as a humanitarian hub. Its excellent infrastructure and logistic facilities are among the best in the world. The UAE’s significant investments in airports, seaports, roads and railways, telecommunication and energy have created an attractive infrastructure environment that the World Bank ranked as number one in the Middle East.

The UAE enjoys a strategic location on the new Southern Silk Road between Asia, Europe and Africa, a situation that provides optimum trading conditions and means the country is poised to take advantage of economic activity among the world’s fastest growing and developing economies as part of the ‘South-South’ trade trajectory.

On the humanitarian front, Dubai has become a key location to preposition supplies for the humanitarian organisations. The warehouse facilities provided by the Dubai International Humanitarian City (IHC) allows organisations to warehouse key supplies that can be dispatched with 12-24 hours of a disaster. The access to the airport as well as the port allows these organisations to get supplies to Africa and Asia fast and in a cost effective manner.

UPS has pledged a commitment to provide aid to particular areas that have suffered from mass natural disasters. what role does dubai play in this?
In 2007, UPS launched the UPS Humanitarian Relief Program, which has supported several international disasters including the floods which hit Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines, earthquakes that shook China and Haiti and the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and Japan.

The UPS Foundation also assisted with more than 250 shipments to 46 different countries to help with disaster response efforts and provided $7.5 million toward humanitarian relief in 2013.Through the program, UPS most recently delivered aid to Nepal following the devastating earthquakes earlier this year.

The program works to set up pre-approved funds at the start of the calendar year, allowing UPS to activate them quickly in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. UPS then activates a team of highly skilled logistic professionals from across the globe, known as the Logistics Emergency Teams (LET), who are the first respondents to the situations. Calling upon its global network, UPS mobilises local employees to the communities stricken by small-scale disasters.

UPS, through its global logistics network, has the ability to provide its expertise and transportation to assist UN agencies and NGOs across preparedness, relief response and post crisis recovery.

The organisation has deep roots in communities, which has led to a long-standing commitment to pre, during and post disaster relief. The Humanitarian Relief Program builds and strengthens partnerships with leading humanitarian relief organisations, assisting them to build their capabilities and increase collaboration amongst a number of organisations such as government agencies, non-profit organizations and private sector businesses. Focusing on equipping communities in crisis, the Humanitarian Relief Program seeks to create more resilient communities around the world.

Since collaborating with international humanitarian city, what projects & initiatives has UPS endorsed?
UPS signed the MoU with IHC this year 2015, and we have already seen the benefits of this partnership, including the delivery of aid to Nepal in April taking off from Dubai. 

More widely, the recent partnership deal will provide the IHC access to UPS’s global capabilities including developing solutions to address logistics challenges UN agencies and NGOs face distributing aid.

What role does technology play in delivering humanitarian aid?
Technology is the backbone of modern logistics. UPS’s ground breaking solutions specifically in information technology and emerging technology allow us to daily deliver the 18.0 million packages and documents.

As technology capacity and speed continually improves, UPS constantly looks for ways to adapt operational technology and combine the information and efficiencies it provides to create additional solutions.

Earlier this year, UPS launched the UPS Relief Link program to help improve the lives of displaced refugees around the world through optimised distribution and tracking of critical supplies in crisis-affected areas.

UPS Relief Link combines the use of a hand-held scanning tool and durable identification cards to deliver superior efficiency by eliminating paper records in the refugee camps.

Using this solution, UNHCR and UPS have been able to speed distribution time, provide verifiable receipt of vital provisions ensuring equitable distribution, and minimise theft through their pilot program in Ethiopia (Dollo Ado) and Mauritania (Mbera).

Introduced at the 2015 Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference (DIHAD), the program was developed in collaboration with UNHCR, which delivers food and other relief items to millions of refugees worldwide.

The UPS Relief Link program was developed leveraging UPS’s proprietary Trackpad technology, which was first implemented to assist The Salvation Army with relief efforts following the devastating earthquakes in Haiti in 2010.

The technology provides full visibility into the supply chain journey of urgently-needed items through the critical ‘last mile’ of delivery to refugees, where human tracking and data input errors often lead to inconsistent delivery and distribution.

Compatible with handheld barcode readers and Android tablets, UPS Relief Link has driven improved operational efficiency for UNHCR. At the Mbera camp alone, UNHCR was able to streamline technology needs from 25 laptops to five tracking devices while eliminating concerns about shortened battery life; a typical distribution that would have taken ten hour has been reduced to two hours. Additionally, UPS Relief Link can produce previously unavailable automated inventory and data reports within seconds.

How does UPS looks at the future?
UPS grows not only by investing in our technology, but also in our people and communities.

Service to our communities is written into our culture and the best way to give back is to draw upon our collective strengths, linking philanthropy to our logistics expertise, our transportation assets and the skills and passion of our global workforce.

UPS looks for innovation and invests in alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles, optimizes the delivery routes to reduce emissions, and strives to strengthen global communities.

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