The Logistics Cluster is one of 11 function-based clusters of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Cluster System and is used to approach humanitarian and emergency relief during disasters. The Cluster Approach ensures the coordination of programming and services related to humanitarian and emergency relief activities by coordinating activities based on function instead of geography or organization.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) leads the Logistics Cluster, which includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private companies and other organizations involved in the logistics and transportation of humanitarian and disaster relief supplies. Although the exact composition of organizations changes with each activation of the logistics cluster, they typically include large global logistics and transportation companies. Many of them are represented by international associations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) and the International Road Transport Union (IRU).
Under the leadership of the WFP, the Logistics Cluster is responsible for coordinating the transportation of goods of all types from points of origin – usually public or private warehouses – to the destination. This destination can be a national warehouse, an emergency shelter camp or directly to the point of distribution. These supplies are transported by truck, rail, ship or air to a centralized logistics point. One of the most considerable challenges facing the Logistics Cluster is “the last mile” – getting the supplies from a centralized logistics point to the people who need them. Final distribution occurs using trucks, helicopters, bicycles or even animals.
The Logistics Cluster uses a matching system called CHOCOLAT – Cluster Humanitarian Operational Coordination of Logistics and Air Transport to match humanitarian organizations needing transportation with organizations with the available capacity they can share. They also produce maps and other information products to support the transportation of humanitarian and disaster relief supplies in countries experiencing humanitarian crises or disasters.
At the beginning of 2021, the Logistics Cluster was actively operating in 24 different locations worldwide in operations ranging from active logistics projects in response to humanitarian and disaster needs to preparedness projects to increase accessibility in case of future need.
- Private logistics companies are critical members of the Logistics Cluster. Many people envision humanitarian and disaster relief supplies as being transported on military aircraft such as a C-130 Hercules or a C-5 Galaxy. However, much of the transportation occurs via private companies such as UPS, DHL and FedEx. Because of their existing infrastructure, these companies can quickly move large quantities of supplies between any two points in the world on short notice.
- The “Last Mile” is the most challenging part of humanitarian and disaster logistics. While moving humanitarian and disaster relief supplies between a supplier’s warehouse and a distribution warehouse can be relatively easy, getting those supplies from the distribution warehouse to the people who need them can sometimes be close to impossible. Often, this last mile will fall to local truck owners, taxis, farmers or local community members carrying boxes to ensure the supplies get to their final destination.
- Coordination is key to efficiency in the logistics sector. The Logistics Cluster helps decrease vehicle trips into areas needing humanitarian and disaster assistance, thus reducing carbon emissions and the overall cost of humanitarian and disaster relief. Instead of carrying supplies for one cluster or one organization, coordination through the Logistics Cluster ensures that trucks and other vehicles carry as much as possible from multiple clusters or organizations.
- The Logistics Cluster trains local disaster officials and employees from participating companies. By providing opportunities for local officials and employees of participating companies to receive training on the global logistics needed for humanitarian and disaster relief, the Logistics Cluster increases their effectiveness and prepares people for future employment. Although those who receive training support the Logistics Cluster when there are emergencies and disasters, the skills they learn are transferable to other jobs in the logistics chain during non-disaster times.
- COVID-19 has completely disrupted global logistics and changed how the Logistics Cluster has to operate. As with many things, COVID-19 has changed how the global logistics chain works and forced the Logistics Cluster to adapt. Many urgent shipments, especially of light-weight or badly needed supplies, used to be transported in the cargo holds of regular passenger flights. As passenger flights dropped off due to COVID-19, humanitarian and disaster relief supplies have to compete with other cargo for increasingly limited space. As a result, supplies have had to be sent through alternate means or on chartered transportation – increasing the length of time they spend in the logistics chain.
How to Help
- Provide unrestricted cash donations when possible. The Logistics Cluster relies heavily on private companies for everything from storage and transportation to “last mile” delivery. The best way to support these activities is by providing unrestricted access to cash or other liquid assets that can easily purchase goods or services.
- Support the development of sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Logistics relies heavily on well-developed, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including warehouses, ports, airports, roads and railways. Increasing the quantity and quality of these infrastructure resources will help ensure that humanitarian and disaster relief supplies can promptly reach those who need them.
- Encourage unique use of corporate assets. Many private companies and NGOs move people and goods between international locations daily. Grants that defray additional costs for these organizations to make their assets available to the Logistics Cluster will help increase the size and capability of the global humanitarian and disaster relief logistics network.
- Support “Last Mile” innovations. The problem of the last mile continues to challenge humanitarian and disaster relief logistics. Supporting innovative and emerging solutions to the last mile challenge will help ensure the success and resilience of the services provided by the Logistics Cluster.
What Funders Are Doing
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has provided the following grants in support of Logistics and the Logistics Cluster:
- $150,000 from the COVID-19 Response Fund to AirLink to provide a coordinated aviation response for supplies to prevent, contain and address the pandemic’s effects on countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They also received a small emergency assistance grant of $5,000 for Project Frontline Medical Responders USVI. The grant helped cover the transportation and hotel costs for physicians as they traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to work at field hospitals on COVID-19 relief efforts.
- $500,000 to Catholic Charities USA, also from the COVID-19 Response Fund, to assist those most acutely affected by COVID-19 throughout local communities in the U.S. They will provide immediate relief by distributing emergency food, shelter, health care, financial assistance and logistical support.
- $57,382 to AirLink to support the free movement of humanitarian and disaster relief staff around the Bahamas during recovery from Hurricane Dorian. This grant was a partnership with a donor who does not wish to be identified.
Other grants related to the Logistics Cluster include:
- The Mars, Inc. Contributions Program donated $2 million in 2020 to the World Food Programme to aid in the transport and delivery of critical supplies for all UN agencies as they respond to COVID-19.
- In 2019, Seacor Holdings donated $250,000 in financial aid and in-kind logistics services to nonprofit relief agencies supporting the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
- Also in 2019, the UPS Foundation provided $1 million worth of support, including logistics services, to meet immediate needs and support long-term recovery in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.
- In 2018, the FedEx Corporation Contributions Program donated $1 million of cash, in-kind shipping and logistics support to nonprofit organizations providing immediate relief and long-term recovery efforts in Hurricane Florence’s aftermath.
- CDP Blog: Good360 Partners with UPS to Solve the Problems of Last Mile Distribution
- CDP Issue Insight: UN IASC Cluster Approach
- CDP Issue Insight: Transportation
- CDP Issue Insight: Critical Infrastructure and Systems
- UN Logistics Cluster: Logistics Cluster Website
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