Joel Sutherland is the managing director of Lehigh’s Center for Value Chain Research and is the past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.
When the news first broke about the devastating earthquake in Haiti I was asked by several people what I thought was the biggest priority in getting aid to the people quickly. Without hesitation I said “they need to focus on logistics”. This brought about a response regarding the need for food, water, and medical supplies. My response was “without logistics it won’t be possible to get the food, water, and medical supplies to those that need it, when they need it, and in the condition they need it”.
For those without a clear appreciation of the importance of logistics it is understandable to think that we could simply fly supplies in to the local airport, or deliver containers to the sea port, where trucks could then pick them up and deliver them directly to those in need. No big deal – right? The fact is that Haiti’s airport and sea port are inadequate to handle the massive amounts of goods that are flowing into the country. Only by closely coordinating the rapid receipt and distribution of these goods from the ports to where they are needed can room be made for more supplies. But this won’t be easy in a country where the roads and bridges are blocked or damaged.
Even if the logistics infrastructure problems can be resolved that stills leaves the management of these logistics activities. Given that Haiti is run by a corrupt government, has no army, and the police force (or what’s left of it) is too small, not trained, and has other priorities, this leave it up to the U.S. and others to commit thousands of trained military personnel and billions of dollars in aid for years to come.