This is an area in which we have the necessary expertise, resources and assets really to make a difference.

In the event of a natural disaster, the ability of aid agencies to provide urgent relief to those in need can make the difference between life and death. WWL is participating in the “Contribute” research project, a joint venture with BI Norwegian Business School and “Everywhere” Humanitarian Response and Logistics Services, which is seeking to solve the logistics challenges that arise when disasters strike.

In recent years, viewers have become accustomed to seeing shocking footage of natural disasters on their TV screens, such as the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as last year’s earthquake in Haiti and, most recently, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While it is already estimated that floods affect more than ten million people every year, global climate change is expected to cause the number of people in need of assistance to increase fivefold by 2080.

“These events have opened up a space for research into humanitarian logistics,” explains Professor Marianne Jahre, who is managing the “Contribute” project at BI Norwegian Business School. “We’ve recognised the need for better relationships and understanding between commercial and humanitarian organisations, in order to increase preparedness and improve the service alternatives.”

Logistics remains one of the major cost factors associated with providing relief to disaster-struck areas. In fact, up to 80 percent of the money spent on a major humanitarian relief operation is typically used to cover transport and logistics. Why is it so expensive?

“With little advanced planning, aid agencies are forced to shop around for services at the last minute, often using air freight to transport relief items, causing costs to spiral out of control. Moreover, there is little, or no, coordination either among the humanitarian organisations themselves, or with other players such as logistics providers,” says Jahre.

 Due to BI’s long-standing relationship with Wilh. Wilhelmsen, it was natural for BI and “Everywhere” to invite WWL to be “Contribute’s” commercial logistics partner. Meanwhile, WWL Supply Chain Management expert, Bjørn Rud, jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

“This is an area in which we have the necessary expertise, resources and assets really to make a difference,” he says.

 One year into the project, WWL has helped develop a forecasting model that will enable aid agencies to prepare for future disasters. By examining data from past experiences and “typical” scenarios, supplies, warehouses and vessel routes can now be planned in advance.

WWL is also looking into offering storage of humanitarian aid cargo on its vessels or terminals, as well as managing storage and transport for the humanitarian aid organisations’ vehicle fleets.

 “Having five to ten containers of relief items on board a ship at any given time could probably enable frequent disaster areas to be reached as quickly and considerably more cost effectively than by air,” says Rud.

Jahre hopes that “Contribute” will help create a future in which logistics providers offer high-quality, competitive services to a more commercially-focused humanitarian sector.

”If we were to have another Haiti ten years from now, I’d expect aid agencies to have pre-negotiated partnerships with global logistics providers, who can offer quick, efficient services at a competitive cost,” she concludes. “The funding and supply chains will already be in place, enabling the beneficiaries to be reached quickly and effectively – meaning that the same amount of money can save more people.”

The main purpose of “Contribute” is to find more efficient ways of setting up and operating relief supply chains. It is a three-year research project, which is jointly headed by BI Norwegian Business School and relief aid specialists “Everywhere”. Financiers include the Research Council of Norway and Wilh. Wilhelmsen, while commercial logistics expert WWL has also committed time and expertise to the initiative. Advisors to the Contribute project also include the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US.