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Something about humanitarian logistics

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I came across the term Humanitarian Logistics by chance to learn. This sounds familiar and unknown. What exactly is humanitarian logistics? Here I will give a brief introduction.

It was estimated that natural and human-made disasters are going to increase 5 times in the next 50 years. Plus the background of economic globalization, social complexity, global warming, and the urbanization accelerating, human-made, and natural disasters are rapidly increasing in number and impact [1]. Therefore, in relief operations, it requires humans to plan proactively and improve the efficiency of the execution. Humanitarian logistics was proposed by A.S. Thomas first in 2005.

Humanitarian logistics vs. commercial supply chain

Due to the huge uncertainty of demand and supply in disaster relief, different types of humanitarian logistics operations are determined according to the level of urgent demand, the state of the support system, and the dynamic characteristics of the rescue demand. This also largely distinguishes between humanitarian and commercial logistics. More characters about humanitarian logistics are explained below [2].

  • Humanitarian logistics has no profit considering
  • There is a different types of and more complicated stakeholders in humanitarian logistics, for instance, governments, volunteers, donators, NGOs, etc.
  • Uncertainty of demand (e.g., time, location, quantity)
  • Urgent short lead time
  • High risk of delivery
  • Local chaos
  • Lack of resources
  • Lack of access to vital infrastructures
  • Lack of security
  • Lack of coordination between organizations
  • The principles of relief organizations must be obeyed
  • Political factors
  • Unable to have performance management

Nevertheless, many scholars are still studying the common characteristics of the humanitarian logistics and commercial supply chain, and finding whether they may learn from each other, such as the profit and efficiency optimization, the technologies used in commercial supply chain management may apply to the humanitarian logistics.

The process of humanitarian logistics

The process of humanitarian logistics involves different actions in different locations. In this process, there are three main stages: supply acquisition and procurement, pre-positioning and warehousing, and transportation [3].

  • Supply acquisition and procurement: the relief organization needs to purchase the required goods with proper cost and lead time. The goods can be, for instance, blankets, medicines, water, etc.
  • Pre-positioning and warehousing: pre-position and store the goods in disaster-prone areas wisely.
  • Transportation and distribution: deliver the required items to the beneficiaries under uncertain conditions.

The importance of humanitarian logistics

Humanitarian logistics is accounting for 80% of relief operations which plays a vital role in disaster relief compared with other logistic activities [3]. It is highlighted in the key actions of fighting for time with death, saving lives, competing for efficiency and high benefits, which are embodied in:

  • Plays a key role in the performance of relief operations, and it is the most expensive part of relief operations (80%).
  • A bridge between procurement and distribution.
  • It can effectively process and track the relief materials and provide rich data for the analysis and research of the disaster relief effect [4].

As the demand for natural disaster relief will continue to increase, humanitarian logistics is facing a lot of challenges. How to scientifically plan and design the humanitarian logistics system and enhance its performance has received more attention from academics. It is worth looking forward to the stability, flexibility, and timeliness of natural disaster prevention will be improved and therefore, reduce the harm of human-made and natural disasters to our world.


The Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA) is a non-profit organization that collaborates with NGOs, private suppliers, academics, and individuals globally to improve the supply chain management and performance of relief operations. They provide a platform for sharing information on procurement, services, and advice, allow emergency management authorities to seek assistance, and enable academics to do related research and present the findings [5]. Once a disaster occurs, the primary task of a relief operation is to save the lives of people and ensure their basic living conditions. Working with the association as HLA, building the networks for the supply chain in advance probably is one of the best ways of improving the efficiency of humanitarian logistics.



[1] Fritz Institute, in: A.S. Thomas, L.R. Kopczak (Eds.), From Logistics to Supply Chain Management: The Path Forward in the Humanitarian Sector, Fritz Institute, San Francisco, CA, 2005.

[2] Logistics Operations and Management: Concepts and Models, edited by Reza Farahani, et al., Elsevier, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/tampere/detail.action?docID=692427.

[3] R. Tomasini, L.N. Van Wassenhove, Humanitarian Logistics, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2009.

[4] Wikipedia: Humanitarian logistics


[5] The Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA)


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