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Desert, swamp or jungle, to get food to the hungry, WFP's logistics team has to negotiate some of the toughest terrain on the planet.

Every year WFP reaches more than 90 million beneficiaries in 74 countries. To achieve this goal, WFP relies on an impressive logistics capacity.

When the areas needing food are not accessible by road, rail or river, other methods are brought into play. An emergency may require a cargo drop from aircraft or a helicopter airlift, but there are other options too. Locally engaged porters, as well as teams of elephants, yak, donkeys and camels are also used when necessary. 

Always on the move

On any given day WFP operates an average of:

  • 50 aircraft
  • 30 ships
  • 5,000 trucks

The different ways WFP transports food can be grouped into three categories: surface transport, shipping and aviation

Rapid response

About half the food distributed by WFP is sourced directly within the country or region where it is needed. The other half, sourced internationally, is shipped by sea and unloaded in 78 cargo ports around the world.

Thanks to a range of strategies, WFP is always able to provide a rapid response to hunger emergencies. A key element in this response is the WFP-managed network of UN Humanitarian Response Depots. These are hubs, positioned near disaster-prone areas around the world, where emergency supplies are stored in readiness.

Serving the humanitarian community

WFP's expertise in logistics meant that in 2005 the agency was mandated to lead logistics operations whenever a humanitarian emergency requires a joint response from UN agencies and the humanitarian community. The group of agencies or organisations which work together is called the Logistics Cluster.

WFP also provides passenger air transport to the entire humanitarian community through the UN Humanitarian Air Service (see video on right), which goes to more than 200 locations worldwide.

Download the WFP Logistics brochure

Logistics Latest

1.  Tell us a little about yourself and where you’ve gone with WFP.
I started with WFP in 2004 as a TNT “Feed the World" volunteer in Malawi. The very next year, I established the first of North Star Alliance’s Wellness Centres, which  are strategically-placed roadside health clinics along Africa's transport corridors. In 2006, I went to Kenya for just three months and stayed three years. By 2009, I was in Rome where I was part of the Pandemic Planning team. I also was deployed to support Logistics Cluster emergencies in Myanmar and Pakistan. In 2012, I was reassigned to Somalia and now here I am on mission in Liberia. Overall I have worked in more than 20 African countries in the past 18 years.

2.   We understand you were deployed to Monrovia about two weeks ago. What is your role there?
I was asked to go due to my experience with the Pandemic Planning team. Initially I was requested to simply get to Liberia ASAP. When I arrived, it was quickly apparent that I should focus on organizing WFP’s food deliveries throughout the country, which will soon be significantly scaling up. On certain projects, I’m also working with the Logistics Cluster, which is providing support and coordination to the humanitarian community across West Africa.

I also really wanted to go to Monrovia as this was a unique response, not just for me but for WFP and everyone involved.

3.   Have you had any moments there, or en route to Monrovia, where you wondered if you made the right decision?
No, I was never in doubt. Due to the pandemic projects I worked on in the past, I understood the virus transmission and personally, I had no worries.

In fact, I consider myself very fortunate to be part of the response team. It’s not every day that we respond to an emergency of this kind.

4.   In your first few days there, what shocked you the most?
The rain. In Somalia, we are lucky if it rains once a year. In Liberia, we are lucky if we have a dry day!

5.   What is the most challenging logistics task you have received in Liberia so far?
Since the 1st of July until the end of August, around 43,700 people at Ebola case management centres and quarantined communities have received food from WFP in nine of Liberia’s 15 counties. We’re still distributing food in West Point and Dolo’s Town, and are monitoring these distributions on a daily basis. When completed, approximately 57,000 people will have been reached. At the same time, we’re preparing to significantly scale-up food distributions as I mentioned before, as well as manage the numerous requests from humanitarian partners to provide and set-up mobile storage units… We’re working around the clock!

6.   How is this crisis different from the others you have supported?
Given the nature of this emergency, this is quite different to anything else. You drive around town and it’s difficult to grasp the concept that this is a country gripped by a barely visible crisis. For example, everyone must wash their hands upon entry to all buildings and shops. I have my body temperature taken at least five times a day. Shaking hands is no longer acceptable, so now we ‘seal a deal’ by touching elbows. It’s quite unusual how quickly old habits change.

7.  In a situation like this, one can imagine there must be a level of strength amongst the community. Is there anything in particular that has moved you?
I am amazed by the local Liberians, who are understandably very concerned about what is happening in their country. Despite this desperate situation, the Liberian people remain dignified, and are unbelievably kind, polite and helpful to all of us.


Alastair Cook is a WFP logistician deployed to Monrovia, Liberia to support much needed food deliveries across the country, where WFP has reached over 43,000 people since the beginning of July. We were able to speak with Alastair about how things are going in Liberia, and this is what he had to say:

As a large part of the national mass distribution plan, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has supported the procurement and delivery of 4.8 million nets to six provinces. In collaboration with the Government of Zambia, three UN agencies – UNDP, UNICEF and WFP – have worked side-by-side to ensure the nets reached 8.2 million people.

As the Principal Recipient of Global Funds grants for malaria-based project in Zambia, UNDP ensured the programme's successful design, implementation and monitoring -- and that also meant contracting UNICEF to head the procurement and manufacturing of the nets in nearby Tanzania, and WFP to transport them to 980 health centers once they arrived in Zambia.

But delivering millions of the nets across thousands of kilometres comes with its challenges. Complex supply chains, challenging road conditions and remote locations could have hampered delivery efforts in Zambia. However, through close collaboration with partners and a sound logistics plan, these obstacles were overcome.

The Beginning of a Challenging Operation

In mid-April, UNICEF-contracted trucks set off from Arusha, Tanzania for Lusaka, Zambia, carrying millions of mosquito nets. WFP was able to assist UNDP in the transport and distribution of the nets to 980 health centers in six provinces, taking over from UNICEF as soon as the nets arrived in-country.

All three UN agencies worked hard to minimise delays and guarantee that the nets arrived in time for the rainy season, when malaria is most prevalent. To support timely delivery, the logistics team at WFP operated against a tight deadline, as they began designing the concept of operations and contracting suitable transporters for each province.

Designing the Concept of Operations

Lusaka was originally planned to serve as a centralized logistics hub for receipt, storage and dispatch of the nets, but after an assessment of the initial plan, WFP’s logistics staff determined the influx of cargo could cause delays.

With this in mind, the team revised the strategy and set-up a network of eight in-country storage hubs, based in six provinces. These were managed by WFP-contracted staff and supervised by independent inspectors, whereby the nets could easily be dispatched to individual districts according to a pre-planned schedule. WFP acted fast to divert the majority of UNICEF-contracted trucks directly to the new hubs, instead of going to Lusaka.

Finding the Right Transporters

At the same time, the logistics team quickly connected with Zambia-based partners to identify and secure local transport capacity to bring the nets from the hubs to the health centers. The Truckers Association of Zambia was their first point of contact for suitable contractors, who would be best placed to navigate tough terrain to remote locations under a tight delivery deadline. The Association recommended WFP to liaise with Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for a well-vetted shortlist of transporters.

After receiving the FRA’s Top 5 contractors from each province, WFP made their selections. Each transporter was subjected to a normal WFP shortlisting process, which included the completion of a WFP transport questionnaire and the implementation of other internal control mechanisms for efficient land transport contracting.

Navigating Tough Terrain to Remote Locations

Reaching remote health centres was also difficult due to challenging road conditions. One of WFP’s top priorities was to contract drivers and transport companies that had in-depth knowledge of the local environment and relevant driving routes. It was a key factor in constructing viable delivery schedules. For those health centres that were said to be inaccessible, local knowledge enabled logistics staff to implement contingency plans to finalize deliveries.

Deploying New Technology

During the operation, WFP also deployed new technologies and a specialised Relief Item Tracking System (RITA), developed and maintained by logistics staff in WFP’s Headquarters in Rome, Italy. For each batch of mosquito nets that set off for delivery, WFP assigned a Quick Response (QR) code (read this story for more), which encrypted a GPS location and other key delivery information. By scanning a QR code with a mobile phone, WFP and partners could quickly view where and when a certain batch of cargo had been dispatched. To make this possible, data was collected from the local level and inputted into RITA by Zambia-based staff and superintendents, who collectively monitored 48 districts on a daily basis. This technology was a good compliment to a complex operation, which saw around 900 trucks transport 4.8 million mosquito over thousands of kilometres.

A Job Complete

Between mid-April and the beginning of August, 100% of the nets had been dispatched by UNICEF from Arusha, Tanzania, and delivered by WFP to health centres across Zambia. From this point, the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) and the Ministry of Health are organizing door-to-door distributions to ensure that each household is personally delivered the right number of nets. Health workers and volunteers from the communities are coming together to support the distribution, whereby the Government of Zambia aims to provide universal coverage of bed spaces.


During 2013 and 2014, the Government of Zambia is undertaking the mass distribution of nearly nine million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, distributing to all provinces across the country. Working together with donors, the UN community, faith-based organizations, civil society, and the private sector, all of the country's ten provinces will be covered. 

Chances are, you might have seen this symbol before. --->

Originally designed in Japan, “Quick Response” codes are used to encrypt information such as web site URLs, phone numbers, text messages, and even geolocation. They are a digital step past the traditional barcode in that they can store and constantly update information, which can be accessed by just taking a picture of the code with your cell phone.

For an organization like WFP, GPS tracking capabilities have the potential to simplify and streamline the tracking of relief items, making this information not only more easily accessible to our own staff, but for the many humanitarian organizations for whom we transport cargo.

In Zambia, our logistics teams are using QR codes to track the movement of nearly five million mosquito nets currently being transported by WFP on behalf of UNDP and the Global Fund to around 1,000 health centres throughout the country.

These QR codes are linked to a centralized Relief Item Tracking Application (RITA), managed by logistics staff based at WFP Headquarters in Rome, Italy. Data collected from the local level is inputted by Zambia-based staff and superintendents who collectively monitor 48 districts on a daily basis. A different code is assigned to each independent batch of cargo that sets off for delivery.

Using a QR code reader installed on a cell phone, staff or partners can easily take a photo of the code above, and find out the history of a particular batch of mosquito nets.

The transporting of these nets is part of a larger effort by the Government of Zambia, together with international aid partners to ultimately eradicate malaria in their country. One part of this plan is ensuring that Zambians are able to access mosquito nets, lowering the rate of potential malaria cases.

This operation in Zambia is unique in that it’s the first time that WFP has implemented this type of technology for tracking relief items on a large scale – and it’s proving to be successful. Not only can individual cargo movements be tracked, but the progress of the entire operation can easily be seen via mobile phone or computer.

WFP has been contracted by the United Nations Development Programme through the Global Fund to distribute 4.8 million mosquito nets to 980 health centres across the country.