Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Regulated Emergency Supply Chain Management: UNHCR example

            The Humanitarian side of Supply Chain Management: UNHCR 


In his article Stress Test For the Global Supply Chain[1], Steve Lohr discusses about some implications of natural disasters such as the tsunami and earthquake in Japan . Corporations' supply chain management systems are quite resilient but might be challenged by unexpected supply disruption and plants closure for an undetermined time period.

However, natural disasters or other unexpected events involve another important aspect which is the displacement of populations and their relocation to a safer place. Governments have urgency plans and procedures to deal with such situations but the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) is one of the main actor in the process of helping ‘refugees’ find shelter and food[2].

What is just a test for normal corporations is UNHCR' everyday business and they should have a strong supply chain that can cover unseen scenarios.  On the other hand, being a UN agency they have to comply with a lot of rules and regulations that would sometimes affect the efficiency of their supply chain management.

So the first question is how to plan demand and supply when you are operating in such an unpredictable domain?
The organization is doing a good job of integrating local resources and practices into their systems so that they are not limited by any barrier. For instance, in south-eastern Chad, out of 7,161 relocated refugees 3086 traveled by alternative means that are common to the local area (by foot and donkey charts). Nonetheless, the agency is still facing some challenges due to the imminent rainy season and the fact that their camps are not entirely designed to resist to storms and flood[3]. Another example is how recent sanctions against Iran increased operations costs and created “problems in the supply chain for medicines and medical equipment” for the agency in Iran [4].

The second question is how an organization can operate in emergency state and still be effective?
The UNHCR has standardized procedures that all suppliers should follow and in collaboration with other UN agencies, they have a directory of suppliers that they can rely on[5][6]. Standardization and globalization are critical into achieving sustainability. A study performed in 2008 explained how the agency was using efficient supply chain management systems in coordination with local integration to timely deliver goods to camps. However the same study showed that the agency was also “caught in a vicious cycle, in which the organization’s focus on paperwork and record keeping reinforces an audit mentality and leads to weak supply chain processes” [7].

Achieving operational effectiveness and planning demand and supply in a Supply Chain are a challenge when you operate in emergency state, within countries that lack the very basic infrastructure, and you have to comply with changing and or rigid regulations. In that case, there is more to the management of a supply chain than design and development. Organization such as the UNHCR are tackling that challenge but there is still a lot to be done and the question on how to be effective under those circumstances remain unanswered. 


1 – Stress Test For the Global Supply Chain (NY Times, March 19, 2011)
2 – ; accessed on September 4, 2013
3 –; accessed on September 4, 2013
5 –; accessed on September 4, 2013
6 –; accessed on September 4, 2013
7 –; accessed on September 4, 2013

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