Sign up today to join our online community, receive email alerts, and make a difference!
Cancel

Logistics

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

Loading vital supplies

WFP’s storage tents, generators, water tanks and other equipment are loaded onto a chartered aircraft at the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in Italy. There are five other UNHRDs around the world that store and dispatch emergency supplies for governments, UN agencies and NGOs when disasters strike.

 

Rapid response

Six hours after take-off, WFP’s cargo arrives at Monrovia’s international airport. It needs to be swiftly offloaded so there is enough space for other cargo planes to land. On average, three planes full of items donated by governments and humanitarian organisations are landing in Liberia each day.   

 

Huge storage hub in the city

The items are trucked 50 kms from the airport to a large supply hub in Monrovia. An old basketball stadium and several large white tents are being used to store the tonnes of cargo arriving daily for the Government, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other organisations responding to the crisis.  

 

Coordinating with humanitarian organisations

Twice a week, around 25 organisations gather for a Logistics Cluster meeting. This is where logistics issues are identified and discussed, and challenges overcome. Here, the group discusses the smaller, remote supply hubs being set up to store supplies from the humanitarian community. Why? To make sure medical and humanitarian goods can reach every remote community.

In rain or shine, supplies are moving

After being briefly stored in the main supply hub in Monrovia, WFP’s cargo begins a two-day journey north to Voinjama, near the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone. This gear will be used to build one of six remote supply hubs in Liberia.

 

Getting to hard-to-reach places

Before the cargo arrives in Voinjama, WFP staff fly there to prepare for its arrival. The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) have daily helicopter flights to remote locations around the country.

 

Setting up in the jungle

Once the equipment arrives in Voinjama, it takes a few days to clear the land and set up the storage tents. Here you can see the first tent already erected. The facility will soon be ready and will store items like protective clothing for health care workers, medical supplies for Ebola patients, food for quarantined communities and hygiene products for families.  

 

Life-saving supplies          

Buckets, gloves, masks and tents; these are just some of the critical supplies to be stored in the supply hubs around Liberia. One of the most important parts of the entire Ebola response operation is making sure the right supplies reach where they’re needed as soon as possible.   

Another cargo plane is flying from the Italian coastal town of Brindisi to Monrovia, the capital of one of three West African countries being ravaged by the deadly Ebola disease. This aircraft - the fifth chartered plane to leave the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi – is carrying more than USD$600,000 worth of equipment needed to respond to the crisis. Does it look like a bunch of big boxes? It is! But follow the cargo trail below to see how the cargo is reaching remote corners of Liberia and helping the Government, WHO and other organizations fight Ebola.

Alastair, a New Zealander, usually based in Kenya
Airport Operations
Alastair was one of the first WFP staff to be deployed for the Ebola response. Was he worried about going? “Not really; Ebola is easy to get but also easy not to get if you follow the precautions.” Each day, he works at Monrovia’s international airport receiving and organizing the tons and tons of cargo arriving from around the world. “Often we have two or three planes landing per day, so we need to quickly offload the cargo to make space for the next one,” he says.

 

Soren, a Dane, usually based in Belgium
Logistics Hub Manager
One of WFP’s initial tasks was to set-up a central hub in Monrovia to store and manage supplies for the government, UN agencies and NGOs. Cargo is trucked from the airport and is temporarily stored there, ready to be sent out where its needed. Soren oversaw the hub’s development, beginning in the rainy season when the land looked like a swamp. His wife is a WASH expert and has previously responded to Ebola outbreaks with MSF Belgium. “She’s usually the one dressed in the full protective gear that I’m storing in these warehouses.”

 

Franck, a Frenchman, usually based in Madagascar
Logistics Cluster Coordinator
Not only is Liberia one of the most affected countries, but it also has the largest number actors responding to the Ebola emergency. So, coordination is key, and Franck knows how to coordinate. Each day, he works in the National Ebola Command Centre (NECC) alongside government, UN and NGO counterparts, trying to find ways to cover the country’s supply needs. “The virus is moving quickly and we don’t know what it will be like in the weeks ahead,” he says. “We need to be able to reach each corner of the country before the virus does.”

 

Harriet, a Liberian, usually based in Liberia
Administration Assistant for the Logistics Cluster
At school, Harriet studied sociology because she liked learning about people from different backgrounds and parts of the world. As Admin Assistant, Harriet currently handles travel documents and other requests for 25 other people ("and they travel a lot!") from over 15 countries. Her children have not been allowed out of the house since August. "I think they understand; my daughter takes my temperature every evening when I come from work before I enter the house," she says.

 

Michael, an Irishman, usually based in Ireland
Engineer
In his free time, Mick renovates his 200 year-old home in Ireland. Right now though, he’s focused on the six remote logistics bases that WFP is setting up around Liberia to ensure a smooth flow of critical supplies into isolated communities. As an engineer, Mick identifies the sites and works with local contractors to make sure the bases are built properly. “In the planning phase, we factor in all elements from security and water to accommodation for the staff going to manage it.”

 

John, an Englishman, usually based in Italy
Remote Logistics Base Coordinator
Once the remote base sites have been identified, John visits them before the trucks and other staff arrive from Monrovia. He double-checks the site and meets with local authorities to discuss and confirm the plans. “It’s important that the local authorities pass on the message that we’re establishing a storage facility, not a treatment centre.” When the trucks arrive loaded with building material and equipment, John and the team immediately start clearing the land, erect the storage tents and fence off the area so the base is secure.  

 

Blixt, a Swede, usually based in Sweden
Engineer for the Ebola Treatment Units
For the first time ever, WFP is building Ebola Treatment Units. WHO asked WFP to build four 100 bed centres in Monrovia, two of which are now complete and were opened by Liberian President, Ellen Johnson. “They’re like little cities, you have everything inside,” says Blixt, WFP’s engineer managing this special project. “There are wards, staff quarters, triage areas, spraying zones for ambulances, waste management areas and incinerators.” Apart from the construction, Blixt regularly attends community sensitization meetings, listening to their concerns.      

 

Francisco, a Panamanian, usually based in Panama
Airport operations
Francisco thought he was being deployed to UNHRD in Ghana, but soon found out he was heading to Monrovia instead. He’s supporting the airport operations and currently overseeing a new temporary storage facility being built there. “My background is in maritime engineering, but working at the airport is quite similar,” he says. “We're just offloading a big plane rather than a big ship!”

 

More than ever before, the humanitarian community is relying on WFP’s logistics team as their ally in the fight against Ebola. International contributions are forthcoming and generous, but the success of this unique emergency response depends on getting critical supplies of protective gear, medical items, equipment and aid workers wherever they’re needed. WFP ‘loggies’ from UNHAS, UNHRD and the Logistics Cluster are working in overdrive. Meet eight of them in Liberia.

Soren Gronvald from Denmark is working as a logistician for WFP. Of the many operations he's worked in, this one has proven to be the most challenging. Donations and supplies are coming in strong, and the days at the logistics hub are long. As the manager of the Monrovia hub, Soren’s daily work is daunting: throughout the day, he coordinates the receipt and dispatch of large quantities of supplies on behalf of the entire humanitarian community.

Because of its expertise in logistics, WFP was given the job of coordinating logistics for the entire humanitarian community in 2005. This is carried out by the Logistics Cluster, a group of humanitarian organisations that work together to ensure services like transport and storage work well during big emergencies. In the Ebola response, one example of this is the logistics hub. Partners such as UN agencies, NGOs and governments involved in the Ebola response can rely on the Logistics Cluster when they need assistance in transporting, storing or dispatching their supplies and relief items.

The logistics hub has been set-up near the Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium, a large sports complex named after the former Liberian Head of State. Just last month, the area next to the site was barren land. Today, it has been transformed into a storage space of nearly 3000m2 for humanitarian organizations. Soren and his team have come a long way.

"We started from scratch," he says. “A few weeks ago this place was just a swamp."

The main hub is now fully operational. Every morning Soren plans his team’s tasks for the day: he needs to know what will be coming in and from where, for how long it needs to be stored and its required destination. For Soren, the key challenge is to have enough staff at the right time. With the amount of cargo arriving and leaving the warehouses, between 30 to 50 loaders are present on any given day, depending on the workload.

Medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, gumboots, chlorine, gloves and masks arrive from around the globe by air, land and sea – on jumbo jets, all-wheel drive trucks and large container vessels. Once in-country, the goods make their way to this logistics hub outside of Monrovia, where they are temporarily received and stored before their dispatch - closer to Ebola-affected communities across the country.

Satta from Monrovia (pictured right) is one of the three on-site storekeepers at the hub in charge of the loaders, who do the heavy lifting. She records what is going in and what is going out. She also makes sure the boxes are nicely piled up and space is optimised inside the warehouse.

“It’s kind of hectic, but it’s a good atmosphere around here, " she says, adding that everybody is cautious, but she isn't afraid. In fact she is proud to be the only WFP female staff member on the ground, and feels fortunate to be so supported by her colleagues. “They highly respect me, and it makes me feel precious,” she smiles.

As the cargo is ready to be picked up, the trucks drive around the basketball court to load the supplies from the different warehouses. This circuit aims at avoiding any possible congestion issues, in case there are several trucks in the hub at the same time. Small volumes of cargo can represent a challenge. For instance, how does one fit them into the different warehouses, if they do not have the same shape? These logistics issues may seem basic, but they are critical here to win the war against Ebola. Time matters.

With the rainy season coming to an end, the mud is drying up and the work in the main Logistics hub in Monrovia is going a little bit easier.

 

Boxes filled with essential relief and supplies for the Ebola response are piled up in a Liberia basketball stadium, ready to be dispatched all over the country. They sit in front of the stands, where crowds of basketball fans would usually cheer on their team. The sounds of truck engines and pallets being moved now fill the air. This is the heart of the WFP’s main logistics hub in Monrovia.