Ebola puts humanitarian supply chains to the test

By Manola De Vos 17 November 2014
Pallets of medical supplies for urgent airlift to Guinea, one of the countries affected by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The Ebola crisis put to test even the most robust relief supply chains. Photo by: UNICEF / ECHO / CC BY-ND

In humanitarian emergencies, logistics and supply chain management ensure quick and appropriate delivery of supplies to populations in need — often making the difference between life and death.

This is even more true in the context of the Ebola epidemic currently ravaging Western Africa, an extremely time-pressed emergency where the slightest gap or delay in the logistics response can result in an instant increase in suffering and life loss.

The very nature of relief supply chains is to operate in dynamic and chaotic environments. But in the face of the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, achieving the well-established humanitarian goal of delivering the right supplies in the right quantities to the right locations at the right time has proven to be a massive — and mostly unique — challenge, even for the most seasoned emergency responders.

Starting ‘from scratch’

Major organizations currently involved in the fight against Ebola all have elaborate humanitarian supply chains and rapid response systems to support affected people at the onset of an emergency. As an example, many humanitarian agencies and donor countries have signed up to use the six U.N. Humanitarian Response Depots strategically located around the world to easily preposition and deploy assistance within 24 to 48 hours of a disaster.