This is the first in what may be an irregular series of posts on humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery in Nepal. I am, in part, using this to gather links and information for future analysis. If readers see related stories or resources, please share in the comments.
The initial 7.8 earthquake struck a few minutes before noon local time on April 25. Several aftershocks have exceeded 5.0.
More than 6250 are confirmed dead. At least 160,000 houses have been destroyed. Many more are damaged. The May 2 OCHA Situation Report indicates it is likely the number of lost houses could eventually exceed 500,000. The number of displaced persons is roughly estimated at 2.8 million.
Over 3 million people are thought to be in urgent need of food assistance.
Many of the principal overland routes to India have been reopened. The United Nations Logistics Cluster has released a current map. Tons and tons of relief supplies have arrived at the international airport outside Kathmandu. A unit of US Marines will be assisting with airport flight operations and receipt of relief supplies.
Effective reception of goods at the airport has been aided by the establishment of a disaster staging area that opened in March. This has allowed goods to be more rapidly relocated from the air-hub’s apron than is often the case in major disasters. There are still problems, but it would have been much worse without this strategic investment.
There are various reports of relief goods not being effectively distributed. This is typically the result of local truckers, wholesalers, and retailers being victims themselves. There are occasional media reports of this being the case in Nepal, but I have not seen what I consider an authoritative analysis. The World Food Program has announced contracting with a fleet of 25 trucks. Whether these are local assets or not is not clear.
The trucking/transport industry in Nepal is heavily self-organized. So-called Transport Entrepreneurs Associations (TEA’s) dominate most regional markets. It is not clear if these private sector syndicates were “pre-wired” into the staging area strategy and operation. Now out-of-date figures (2001) report there are over 20,000 larger trucks in Nepal.
I have been surprised by media reports that fuel distribution is largely returning to “normal”. Recently Nepal has suffered from sometimes acute fuel shortages without the complication of a major earthquake.
Earlier today, Saturday, a United Nations official complained that distribution of some relief goods is being delayed by Nepali customs officials. (UPDATE: Since Saturday there have been contradictory reports on this potential impediment. Major media are giving the criticism more and more attention. But when organizations gathered at a recent meeting of the Logistics Cluster were asked about the problem, none reported any specific instances of delays caused by customs procedures. The Government of Nepal has admitted that some land-based customs officials had been slow to adjust to regulatory waivers, but have insisted customs clearance at the airport has been consistently expedited. A guess: major organizations with Nepal-based experience know how to operate within the system, smaller organizations and “humanitarian tourists” do not.)
The Nepal Logistics Cluster site is a good place for ongoing updates and details.
In previous efforts by this blog to monitor logistics and supply chain operations — especially in Japan and the Philippines — there has been a strategic/operational disconnect between local truckers/trucking and national/international relief operations. Any information in this regard on the situation in Nepal would be especially appreciated.
Other logistics lessons-learned from prior disasters, in the context of Nepal, are featured by the Globe and Mail.
More as I find it.
SUNDAY, MAY 3 UPDATE
A couple of interesting bits, mostly gleaned from Logistics Cluster minutes. As of late Saturday:
Bharatpur is where most of the commercial road transport capacity of the country is established. Bharatpur hub will be used as forward logistics base for the incoming road-transported cargo from India,to avoid all cargo transiting through Kathmandu before re-dispatching to affected locations… Discussions are ongoing with the transporter association in order to control transport rates, and expand the transport network to the affected areas, where possible… No issues in the availability of fuel were reported…
Quick comment: An airport is NOT typically a commodities hub. By giving more attention to Bharatpur the relief operation should increasingly be able to connect into pre-existing distribution networks and capacity. Roads between Bharatupur and India are mostly open and it is well-placed to supply hard-hit areas west of Kathmandu. I will be looking for similar attention to be given to Birgunj, once roads have reopened between the border with India and Kathmandu. Regarding “transport rates” what is the difference between “gouging” and an “efficient market response”?
More reports are becoming available on the situation in the more remote areas of the impact zone. (See excellent NYT maps.) As surveillance increases the recognized scope-and-scale of this disaster is likely to expand significantly… and the real challenge facing supply chain recovery will be more fully understood. An issue that I perceive is too often obscured: humanitarian logistics is a crucially important step in serving survivors. But depending on how humanitarian logistics is conceived and implemented this process can either expedite or suppress supply chain recovery.
(A piece in the May 3 edition of The Indian Express combines coverage of the current situation with implications for longer-term recovery.)