The Critical Intersection of Humanitarian Logistics and Food Supply Chains

The Critical Intersection of Humanitarian Logistics and Food Supply Chains

The Critical Intersection of Humanitarian Logistics and Food Supply Chains

Feature Article by Shereen Nassar, Global Director of Logistics Studies and Director of MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management Suite at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

Despite food being a basic human right, the World Food Program (WFP) anticipates that the number of individuals experiencing food insecurity in 2023 will be around 345.2 million, which is over two times the figure in 2020. This indicates a significant increase of around 200 million people compared to the levels before the COVID-19 pandemic. The devastating consequences of the pandemic, combined with the current geopolitical uncertainties and natural calamities, have highlighted the unprecedented economic and accessibility repercussions for both food-importing and exporting nations. In such adverse situations, humanitarian logistics and food supply chains play a crucial role in aiding. Whether it is responding to natural disasters or addressing the impact of conflicts and pandemics, a well-functioning logistics system can significantly impact people’s lives. However, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and complex, humanitarian logistics and food supply chains are facing new challenges that require innovative solutions to ensure their resilience and effectiveness.

In the UAE, there have been multiple initiatives taken to strengthen food security. For example, the launch of the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051 significantly contributed to the country’s success in achieving the top rank in the Food Security Index. Consequently, the nation emerged as the top-ranked Arab country, securing 23rd position worldwide for food safety and quality in 2022. Several organisations in the UAE are actively engaged in supporting local food production by utilising cutting-edge technological solutions. Organisations are taking the lead in establishing advanced infrastructure for storing and distributing locally and internationally sourced food supplies to different markets. For instance, a well-known group based in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) has recently launched one of the region’s largest advanced food and healthcare warehousing and logistics hubs. The UAE’s strategic location between East and West, with access to a vast consumer base across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, presents an opportunity to serve as a central hub for food storage and distribution, contingent upon addressing key global food logistics challenges.


Food Insecurity: Supply–Demand conundrum

Food shortage and insecurities can be directly related to poor supply chain management practices from farm to table. Food insecurities can evolve at various points along the supply chain that result in huge food waste that requires serious attention. Raw food products continue to grow but the challenge starts when the producers or farmers cannot get it delivered to market due to high logistics cost including packaging and transport. If the products can be delivered at such a high cost, it will increase the price and customers might not be willing or able to pay higher prices. In addition, overdemand is another concern when customers buy double or triple their actual food consumption. All these factors are evidence of the disconnection between supply and demand and the lack of coordination and awareness. As a result, food goes to waste causing manmade food insecurities.


Humanitarian operational challenges

One of the key challenges facing humanitarian logistics and food supply chains is the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. Climate change is leading to more frequent and intense storms, floods, and droughts, which can disrupt the supply chain and make it difficult to transport goods to affected populations. Furthermore, conflicts and political instability can also disrupt supply chains, making it challenging to deliver food and other essential items to people in need. Managing humanitarian logistics can be incredibly challenging, especially in emergencies where there are many moving parts and time is of the essence. For instance, Humanitarian organisations often have limited resources, both in terms of funding and physical resources like trucks, storage facilities, and staff. This can make it difficult to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies. Infrastructure can also be a hurdle in accomplishing delivery tasks. In adverse situations, the infrastructure can be damaged or certain movement restrictions can make it difficult to transport goods and supplies. Conditions of roads, bridges, and airports can be compromised, and this can slow down the delivery of aid. In some parts of the world, delivering humanitarian aid can be dangerous due to conflict, political instability, or other security concerns. Coordination and collaboration can be tricky for humanitarian logistics and food supply chains, especially in complex emergencies involving multiple organisations.


Strategic efforts to build resilience

Technology can play a significant role in improving resilience. For instance, drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to deliver supplies to hard-to-reach areas, while blockchain technology can be used to track and trace the movement of goods along the supply chain. Organisations must perform a thorough evaluation of their technological capabilities to develop durable supply chains that can effectively recover from disruptions and handle potential future interruptions. Employing data-driven technological strategies, such as utilising big data capabilities, can help organisations harness unstructured data to enhance their disaster resilience. Improving data collection and analysis can help identify potential challenges in the supply chain, allowing for better planning and preparedness. Another e way to increase resilience is to build redundancy into the system by having backup systems and alternative supply routes in case the primary system is disrupted. Lastly, building strong partnerships among stakeholders is another essential step for building resilience. This includes working with local communities, governments, and NGOs to develop a coordinated response to crises.

Building resilient humanitarian logistics and food supply chains is crucial for ensuring that aid reaches those who need it most. By bridging education, research, and food security, as well as harnessing the power of technology, it is possible to build a system that is adaptable and flexible, even in the face of unexpected events. Eventually, the success of humanitarian logistics and food supply chains will depend on the preparedness to respond to critical situations and the ability of stakeholders to work together to build a system that is resilient, effective, and equitable.

About the Author

Dr Shereen Nassar is the Global Director of Logistics Studies and the Director of the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management programmes at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

Dr Nassar’s main research interest is sustainability and supply chain resilience. She has published a number of research papers and book chapters in areas such as automotive recall risk and socialsustainable supply chain performance, sustainable maritime logistics, supply chain information security, contemporary disruptive business applications of blockchain technology, smart cities and implementation challenges.


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