Posted in Consulting

The challenge of humanitarian logistics in disaster relief operations in the Caribbean?



 Here you are, working at a private sector logistics company that has invested in state-of-the-art technology, heavy equipment, and a fleet of commercial vehicles. And due to a proactive recruiting process and choosing the right freight forwarders, your enterprise with its supply chain and logistics wing, has a winning team and the right infrastructure to deliver customers’ precious cargo on-time, directly to authorized agents in almost every corner of the world. A Director of Operations has in the boardroom countless meetings with his/her team to discuss effective logistics operations, ETA’s or on-time delivery of freight to several ports of destination but never enternain the idea of providing fast and reliable service at no cost to customers. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is an expression that gets thrown around a lot during difficult times but unfortunately does not apply to the logistics business. On the contrary, high paying customers determine how resources are allocated in this industry. Therefore, most transport and logistics companies are usually caught off guard when approached and then asked by individual customers to assist for free or at the lowest cost possible during a natural disaster. As humanitarian organizations mobilized to provide relief during a natural disaster, most of the time in a devastating and chaotic environment, it becomes apparent that complex supply chains are needed and would be crucial for effective relief in the form of food, water, medical supplies, and emergency aid. Damaged infrastructure as a direct impact of a hurricane for example, accompanied with a rapidly changing environment should drive the need to optimize those complex supply chains that would result into adequate distribution of goods and services under a new set of difficult circumstances. Every year, during the hurricane season, I, on behalf of CentEx Cargo, get a few calls from a number of potential customers who find themselves in a dilemma. They tell me right off the bat, they don’t have a lot of money and second, they desperately want to provide immediate help to people, some of whom they know personally, that are in a dire need of relief in some small town in the Caribbean. Here is the thing, according to the world economic forum on disaster management, more than 250 million people each year are affected by natural disasters. To make matters worse, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since 1980 and still on the rise possibly as a result of climate change, population increase, and rapid urbanization. By the same token, natural disasters and catastrophic events need immediate media attention to get more concerned citizens like yourselves to get involved and to synchronize our energy in the right direction. Moreover, this is a unique opportunity for private sector companies, NGO’s, and government agencies to form the necessary partnerships that can unequivocally lead into a seamless network capable of generating collaborative solutions at a cost-effective rate. It is imperative, however, to distinguish between a private sector company and a non-profit one. CentEx Cargo is a for profit entity. Consequently, the main purpose and goal to our contributions is to transport and ship donated goods at the lowest cost possible and provide private sector expertise to a local government and established NGO’s that already have a presence in the country where the natural disaster has had devastating effects. Thus, before you ask for assistance, you should already have a list of NGO’s that has extensive experience dealing with the government of the country where a given hurricane did wreak havoc. Those NGO’s are more than likely capable of applying major discounts to your account and their main mission should be to subsidize some of the crucial services you are going to need on the ground in Cayes, Haiti for instance. In that, there is always an economic reality even when private citizens are lending a helping hand to people in need.

As stated previously, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled, and for that same reason, I am continually looking for feedback from anybody interested in this Blog entry, and invaluable input from CEO’s of NGO’s in the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries so we can start the necessary discussion on how we – i.e., private-sector logistics companies, local governments, and NGO’s – can prepare a better, faster, and cohesive response to natural disasters in the Caribbean.

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