Distribution Woes

Once inside the country, foreign aid groups had to create their distribution networks from scratch, resulting in very limited points of distribution (PODs). Some PODs consisted of nothing more than helicopter drops. At last, the food airdrops stabilized when the World Food Programme launched a fixed-point food distribution system. Structured around 16 geographically disparate sites, the World Food Programme distributed supplies while the UN and U.S. units provided support and security.

To facilitate distribution, the Red Cross used a ticketing system, giving priority to homeless families. Crowd control was often an issue at distribution sites; once people in surrounding areas caught wind that the Red Cross was handing out supplies, lines tripled and tempers flared.

Two weeks after the disaster, the reconstruction phase began, which placed emphasis on long-term rehabilitation — though there’s still debate as to how well those efforts have paid off since the disaster.

The Time to Act is Now

According to Vince Beiser of Wired, “Humanitarian supply chains are generally less efficient and the people running them less well trained than their commercial and military counterparts.” Without a united chain of command, multiple groups swarm into the same area, duplicating efforts and competing for fuel and food. The end result? Lots of wasted effort and miscommunication.

Clearly, this instance won’t be the last time a small country with poor infrastructure will be forced to grapple with the aftermath of a disaster. Aid groups should take Haiti as a lesson: the time to establish an efficient chain of command in the humanitarian supply chain is now.

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