Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 7, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 4

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2015

In the last forty-eight hours surveillance operations have completed an initial accounting of the entire impact region.  This has found even greater devastation in remote communities than had been anticipated.  The death toll is now over 7500, but likely to increase.  In the ascent to the High Himalayas whole villages have disappeared beneath landslides.

The United Nations Logistics Cluster is releasing detailed maps of these areas.  Many show several place-names entirely detached from even tertiary roads.  Long-used foot trails are impassable.  In many places pedestrian suspension bridges have been lost.  Already treacherous terrain is now totally changed and even continuing to shift.

Over 284,000 houses have been destroyed.  More than 200,000 have been seriously damaged.  This has also reduced foodstocks, seedstocks, agricultural tools, and other resources needed for recovery.  The May 6 OCHA update notes:

Many people have lost their homes and livelihoods and will require time and support to access relief ahead of the monsoon season. People might have also lost their documentation which can make it difficult to settle land issues, if they arise. In addition, in some areas, recently harvested wheat and barley crops have been lost together with seeds required for the upcoming rice planting season. Ensuring that adequate support reaches those in need before the monsoon season begins is a top priority, thus, securing the pipelines and prepositioning of goods is critical…

2,693 metric tons (MT) of food has been dispatched and is currently being distributed in 15 districts.  34 MT of high energy biscuits were distributed across the affected districts. Food assistance activities using cash are being planned in Makawanpur based on the market functionality assessment… Rice seed needs to be procured and distributed to farmers within the next three weeks.

Distributing cash — often through hiring focused on community recovery tasks — is one way to begin to replace the “push” of humanitarian logistics with the “pull” of supply chain recovery.

May 6, 2015

Garland or Gorkha?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2015

Early this morning I received the following note from a friend and colleague.  He has made a couple of edits since I asked his permission to post, but nothing substantive has been changed.


The situation in Nepal deserves sustained attention.  It has already disappeared from most broadcast media.  I also know that supply chains are “your thing.”  Still, given the key place of terrorism in homeland security, it’s a problem that HLSWatch has not even made mention of the Sunday shooting in Garland, Texas.  Not even links?

Garland also strikes me as a story especially well-suited to your point-of-view.  Two equally dark and angry forces encounter each other outside Dallas. There’s got to be a quote from Niebuhr or Eliot or Aristotle that would appropriately frame this collision of self-righteous hubris?  How about some meditation on the deadly violence visited on the self-conceived Salafist  heroes?  Does one pistol against two automatic rifles a hero make, or is something else going on?

If you are known for anything, it is for flushing out the idiocy that travels with self-certainty.  Two tribes of idiots met in Garland.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

The writer has asked I protect his anonymity.

Mostly I agree with the critique.  I especially like his questions. I wish I had the perfect quote on the tip of my tongue.  In addition to the situation in Garland, there have been important issues related to the Tsarnaev sentencing process, French counter-terrorism policy, Syrian military operations, the civil war in Yemen.. and lots more.  I apologize.  Mostly it is a matter of time.  But it is also a matter of what is getting attention elsewhere.  My basic approach at HLSWatch is to amplify, aggregate, analyze, and sometimes advocate. At the very least I want to amplify important issues that are not getting much attention elsewhere.  Weirdly, that has very quickly included the situation in Nepal.  And my friend is right, I have a particular interest in how networks behave under duress.

I will make this offer:  When HLSWatch seems to be absent on an issue, I would welcome receiving a missive in the comments that might be escalated to the front page (as here).  Not promising anything.  Some days I don’t even look in after 6AM.  But a diversity of topics is absolutely welcome.

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 3

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2015

Nepal Market Functionality

Over the last several days the United Nations World Food Program has tried to assess the recovery of ordinary commercial operations in the impact zone.  Their complete report is here.  The WFP recognizes this is merely a high-elevation snapshot of a rapidly changing situation.  But as of the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours, here’s what seems to be the case:

Ninety-one markets were assessed in 10 districts, 50 percent were reported as not functioning, with shops damaged/destroyed, food stocks completely depleted or ruined, or shopkeepers and traders displaced or affected. Forty percent were reported as showing early signs of recovery. These markets are currently not fully functioning and would be unable to support local demand, with a few shops open but most closed due to fear of aftershocks, structural collapse, security, or depleted stocks. Ten percent were reported as functioning, with shops open, food stocks available, but price increases and some commodities not available.

Nepal is a poor country where most of the population survives on near-subsistence agriculture.  Even in the best of times, Nepal is a food-deficit economy.  A 2010 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization found, “Food insecurity and hunger remain pervasive in Nepal, not only in food deficit districts but also within marginalized communities in districts with surplus food production.”

In rural areas — many not connected by roads — food stocks are maintained by individual farmers in their homes.  In many cases, these homes were destroyed in the earthquake.  This has seriously reduced available food stocks.  The WFP report states that in the northern districts of Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Sindhupalchok preexisting foodstocks have been “completely destroyed.”  The population of these three districts is over 300,000.

In many of these areas anything remotely similar to what most of us mean by a “supply chain” did not exist prior to the earthquake.


Following are emerging impressions — not final conclusions — that are prompting questions and further research.  I am asking for readers to help.  I am not offering a confident analysis.  But at this point in time:

  • It appears that Nepal’s road network, while not extensive, has largely survived the quake.  There have been problems caused by landslides.  But bridges and basic infrastructure have, for the most part, survived.
  • Fuel deliveries have continued mostly uninterrupted.  As noted in prior posts, there is a history of fuel shortages brought on by financial and organizational challenges.  For the fuel network to — basically — continue at capacity in the aftermath of this quake is very helpful.
  • Several Nepalis or expats returned from Nepal have told me they are surprised the telecommunications network has recovered quickly from some outages (or over-use?) immediately after the quake.

An engineer friend notes that ferro-cement is generally resilient up to an 8.0 quake.  This was 7.8.  Is that the crucial threshold at which modern systems cascade toward catastrophe?

None of this is meant to underplay what happened on April 25 and the terrible task ahead — as suggested by the loss of foodstocks noted above.  Hundreds of thousands remain vulnerable to lack of clean water, basic sanitation, sufficient food, and minimal shelter.

But in the midst of the death and destruction are there some unexpected lessons-to-be-learned related to mitigation, resilience, and potential catastrophic thresholds?

May 5, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 2

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 5, 2015

Logistics Conops_May 4

United Nations, World Food Program, Logistics Cluster, Concept of Operations

The death toll is now over 7000 and continuing to climb.

The May 4 OCHA Situation Report notes,  that 1.4 million people have been prioritized for immediate food support. “Distribution of a total of 2,094 metric tons (MT) of food has begun across 15 districts. Since 29 April, some 52,000 tarpaulins have been distributed in 29 districts while an additional 234,161 tarpaulins are en route to Nepal.”  The monsoon season typically begins in late May/early June.  According to the most recent updates, over 191,000 homes were destroyed and more than 175,000 were damaged.

As the map above shows, the international   community is attempting to reduce the current dependence on the air-hub at Kathmandu. The Conops released yesterday notes, “The foremost objective of the Logistics Cluster in Nepal is to support the Government-led response by coordinating with International and National NGOs, the UN system and the Private Sector in order to optimize logistics efforts, and hence, the delivery of various humanitarian assistance programmes.”

Sounds reliably bureaucratic and almost meaningless.  But especially in Nepal, the implications of “Government-led” may tee-up one of the principal impediments to effective humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery.  Here’s the close of an editorial in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post:

With few exceptions, the state has so far performed miserably in the aftermath of the earthquake. While there is a real need to not undermine state authority, and indeed to build state capacity, it must be made clear that rebuilding/strengthening a feudal state is not the goal. The feudal legacy embedded in an antiquated bureaucracy and reinforced by a political elite centered on power and its preservation, must be fiercely critiqued and resisted by all citizens. Prioritisation of the lives of citizens—not the policing of restrictive rules in a time of emergency—should be central. The expedient delivery of relief materials from the airport and other locations to citizens in need must take precedence.   

Reuters has a good overview of some important mitigation measures that were taken before the earthquake.

The Hindustan Times has a helpful round-up of critiques and counters regarding “official” preparedness for and response to the quake.

May 2, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 1

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 2, 2015

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.


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.)

May 1, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 1, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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