Supply Chain Nightmare in Haiti

February 8th, 2010 - 28 Comments

recent article (and accompanying photos) in The Wall Street Journal follows one 15-truck convoy as it attempts to distribute earthquake aid in Haiti, detailing the logistical nightmare facing aid workers there.

Below, Smeal’s Felisa Preciado, an expert in the supply chains of Latin American, explains how an already weak logistics infrastructure in Haiti was decimated by the earthquake, making it nearly impossible to get resources to where they’re needed in a timely fashion.

From Preciado:

Christopher Rhoads’ “Convoy to Nowhere” article takes us along in a journey of widespread despair and utter frustration through a devastated Haiti.  This convoy’s story, mingled with all the alike reports coming from that tropical island nation, brings to mind the rising needs of the Haitian people in face of the impossibility to effectively match supply and demand.  So, what is the problem?  Many have wondered.  Why is it so difficult to distribute aid in Haiti?  Are these predicaments a natural consequence of Haiti’s pre-earthquake impoverished infrastructure?  How is Haiti different than other countries struck by tragedy in recent years?

The truth is that there are no simple answers or solutions.  Haiti’s notoriety as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere makes it no surprise that their need for foreign aid dates to long before the deadly January 12 earthquake.  In addition, prior to the disaster, their population of more than 9 million was dependent on a very limited logistical infrastructure.  There are four airports with paved runways, but only one of those has, in its single runway, sufficient capacity (length) to handle large aircraft.  Add to it that the overwhelming majority of the roadways are unpaved (nearly 75 percent according to the CIA Factbook), and the picture becomes clearer.  It was a challenge to distribute anything even before the day tragedy struck.  Furthermore, as an island, Haiti requires access to ocean freight, which only has through one outlet, Cap-Haitien.  This port was completely devastated during the quake.  All cranes and quays ended up underwater, excluding the access through their ports as an option for relief arrival, sorting, and distribution.

From the early stages, as aid poured in from all over the globe, it became evident that the airport, the most direct and only port of entry (other than border-crossing from neighboring Dominican Republic), was going to be a major bottleneck.  A bottleneck resource limits your capacity, and limited it has been indeed.  Slowly aid is coming through and out of the airport.  Notwithstanding the badly damaged control tower, all aid agencies have tried their best to reach the needy with the help mainly of the United Nations and the U.S. military through the Port-au-Prince airport as the major hub and command center.

Another major aggravating factor is that the local infrastructure that traditionally is key after a natural disaster was not there.  A supply chain needs not only roads and ports, but also manpower, equipment, facilities, and accurate and timely access to information. 

All of these were already scarce, and the disaster took a major toll on the limited resources that were available.  The reality is that, in fact, they were not only dealing with the aid delivery problem; there was the rescue problem and the healthcare delivery problem, as well. 

Three supply chains with distinct purposes, yet very closely intertwined and interdependent.  A challenge that requires collaboration, synchronization, and the involvement of the local authorities and other entities, which sadly for Haiti were already deficient, then rendered completely crippled by the fateful event.  In consequence a domino effect has taken place:  delays in getting the aid to people, people becoming hungrier and more desperate, security problems arising, then security problems delaying and even blocking the distribution of badly needed aid.

The problems seem overwhelming, but the resolve of people like Scott Lewis (in the Journal article) shows the best of our humanity.  There are people working around the clock to repair the Cap-Haitien port.  Many from the logistics community—from freight forwarders and third-party logistics providers to academics and members of related professional organizations—are donating their time and effort to help bring comfort to this battered country by developing effective distribution strategies.  They work side by side with medical personnel, relief agencies, and the international community at large.  They need help, and will continue to need help for a long time.  In spite of all the obstacles logistical, or otherwise, we must not silence that which compels us to help in any way possible.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 2:42 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

28 Responses to “Supply Chain Nightmare in Haiti”

  1. NickB says:

    Not wishing to throw stones, but as the Western Hemisphere also includes parts of Africa, Haiti is not the poorest. Mali and Burkina Faso are the two poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

  2. Smeal Editor says:

    According to the CIA Factbook, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere:

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