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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.

On average, WFP reaches more than 80 million people with food assistance in 75 countries each year.

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:

  • 70 aircraft
  • 20 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 more than 70 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 250 locations worldwide.

Key Logistics Documents

Logistics Latest

Despite a challenging environment, WFP successfully re-launched operations in pockets of the country that were previously inaccessible, allowing WFP to reach remote communities with food assistance. At the same time, WFP also managed to reduce costs through optimisation efforts.

Within the humanitarian sector, investments made towards developing fleet safety measures and improving efficiency of operations are on the rise. During the Fleet Forum Conference, UNHCR was recognized with the 2015 Best Transport Achievement Award, which was given to them for their strategic global fleet management approach.  

Fleet Forum is an inter-agency association of more than 40 members, including NGOs, international organisations, the UN, academic institutions, donors, and corporate partners. Its purpose is to encourage, facilitate, and develop relationships between humanitarian aid and development organisations all over the world. It has grown to encompass commercial transport organizations that share concerns about road safety, green practices, and fleet efficiency.

What is the Fleet Forum Conference?

The annual Fleet Forum Conference brings together industry experts to discuss the best practices and the latest trends in fleet management. Participants include specialists from aid and development organisations such as World Vision, Save the Children and Concern Worldwide, as well as renowned commercial companies – from UPS to Toyota to Nissan. This year’s conference was hosted at WFP’s Headquarters in Rome, Italy.

What are the key highlights from the conference?

The theme for this year was ‘Professionalising Fleet Excellence.’ Through discussions and break-out sessions, participants shared experiences from their organizations that illustrated a direct link between professionalization of fleet excellence and the performance of an organisation. Another main finding that emerged was the power of data, and the important role it plays in ensuring better operational performance and overall fleet excellence. Data sharing with like-minded logistics and transport organizations, as well as relevant benchmarking, was also identified as a top priority for many fleet managers. 

How is WFP professionalising fleet management?

WFP specializes in the movement of food and relief items, working in more than 75 countries to support emergency response and development efforts. Effective resource management, logistics and administrative expertise are essential to WFP's ability to deliver. WFP-owned assets, such as heavy duty trucks and light vehicles are an important part of WFP’s capacity. Over 800 all-terrain trucks deliver life-saving food assistance, while approximately 3,300 light vehicles and 700 motorcycles transport staff and light cargo wherever they need to go.

To ensure optimal operational efficiency, WFP monitors the performance of its fleets through the Fleet Management System, which monitors spare parts, fuel usage and vehicle utilisation rates of every WFP-owned truck. Through a donation of more than 200 new KAMAZ trucks, WFP will continue to optimise the running of its global fleet, allowing WFP to call forward trucking capacity within the first weeks of an emergency, and later scale it back when it is no longer needed. The new trucks will also contribute to stronger performance, better fuel economy, and lower maintenance costs – cutting fuel usage by 30% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In keeping up with the changes in the humanitarian operational sphere, WFP uses an innovative leasing programme, which provides services to the humanitarian community, through the Global Vehicle Leasing Programme (GVLP). Through GVLP and light vehicle management support, WFP is able to get the most from the resources it is provided, in addition to making sure that the right vehicle is deployed to the right operational environment.

WFP recognized with award in truck fleet management

At the recent 2015 Fleet Forum Annual Conference, WFP’s Afghanistan team was recognized with an award for their achievements in delivering food to hard-to-reach locations – thanks to efficient and effective management of WFP-owned trucks.

A plume of white dust fills the air after a 15 kg sack of flour lands with a thud onto the pavement. The sack is part of a food ration that will feed a whole family of five for one month in Syria. WFP Logistics Officer and Mersin Officer-in-Charge, Sumalee Sterup-Hansen, reaches down to inspect the stitching on the bag after the drop test. 

“The stitching must be able to withstand multiple handlings not just from the factories in Mersin, but also from the transhipment point at the border,” she explains. “Any damage at the transhipment point is lost investment for the supplier, as well as the transporters.”  

We are standing outside in the heat next to a football field-sized warehouse where, inside workers are methodically packing hundreds of boxes with food rations for WFP to send onwards to Syria. Next to us stands two imposing silos which process bulgur wheat and dried chickpeas, also part of the food rations.  

Drop Tests And Lab Samples

It is the job of Gokhan Ustun, the Superintendent Manager for WFP Logistics in Mersin, to ensure the quality and safety of the food procured by WFP. This means drop tests and lab samples, as well as inspection of all packaging labels, for each of the food shipments that will be sent from Mersin. In just 10 minutes at the factory site, it is clear Ustun doesn’t miss a detail.  

“There are no expiration dates on these seven cans of chickpeas” declared Ustun, “all must be sent back.” The factory manager gestures in agreement and the cans are placed to one side.

A massive 90 percent of WFP food sent to Syria is sourced from Mersin, which translates into big gains for the local economy. Since January 2011, WFP has procured a total US$612 million in food commodities from Turkey. Mersin’s location on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea provides access to Lattakia and Tartous – both major ports in Syria located near Homs and Hama, as well as port access further south to Beirut.  

Sharing a 900-kilometre border with Syria, Turkey is well-placed to provide overland access through three major border crossings of Reyhanliand and Oncupinar (where transhipment of food from Turkish trucks to Syrian trucks occurs inside Turkey) and Nusaybin (where transhipment takes place inside Syria).  

Shipping 3,000 Tons Of Wheat Flour 

At Mersin port, 3,000 tons of fortified wheat flour are being transferred in one metric ton “big bags”, a packaging innovation that has reduced loading time at the port from cranes into the cavernous hold of the Serenada. The vessel will set sail to Tartous then for Beirut where food will then be distributed to Syrians in urgent need of assistance. Peering over the hold of the ship, white bags upon white bags are stacked as far as the eye can see.  

“Mersin provides a convenient location with both the port and suppliers located in the same place,” says Port Captain and WFP Logistics Officer, Niels Olsen. He adds “It will take 16 hours for the Serenada to reach Tartous; after unloading 1,400 tons it will then proceed to Beirut.”  

WFP Superintendent Gokhan Ustun joins us again at this site to do physical sampling of the wheat flour, which is carefully re-inspected (following initial inspection at the factory site). Any damaged flour is rejected and returned to the supplier, with new bags provided to WFP.  

Before items are loaded onto the vessel, the ship is carefully inspected to ensure cleanliness and seaworthiness. Olsen explains that since the beginning of the operation in 2011, the logistics process has improved along the way.

“With time, the transaction costs are going down. We are reducing time lost – that is definitely money saved.”

Overland Through Bab al Hawa

In the WFP’s Logistics Hub in Reyhanli, Turkey, where the transhipment process takes place, empty Syrian trucks line up back to back next to Turkish trucks filled with rice, wheat flour and ration boxes. Before the trucks even reach the hub, they must be weighed, and then re-weighed once again before leaving for Syria. Once inside the hub, a flurry of activity takes place with all hands on deck.  

WFP Logistics, alongside the United Nations (UN) Monitoring Team, Turkish customs officers, UN-contracted implementing partners, as well as Syrian labourers ensure the process of shifting food commodities from the Turkish to the Syrian trucks follows strict guidelines. Today users of the hub include not only WFP-directed assistance but also, trucks being sent to Syria from six UN humanitarian agencies.  

Charles Kumar, a WFP Logistics Officer who manages the Reyhanli hub explains the process. “Several elements make this process successful and inclusive. The customs process to allow the seal on the Turkish truck to be broken by the Turkish authorities and the weight bridge in Cilvegozu where the trucks are weighed and contents x-rayed to ensure no harmful items are inside."

[quote|"We didn’t realize until speaking with them that some are actually bankers or even doctors and have never done this kind of work."]The condition of the WFP-contracted Syrian trucks is also inspected to make sure they are suitably clean to carry food.” The entire transhipment process can take up to six hours. When I ask about the work conditions of the Syrians loading the goods, Charles explains that safety is a big factor. “The labourers come from different backgrounds. For many of them we had to explain how to move the items safely – we didn’t realize until speaking with them that some are actually bankers or even doctors and have never done this kind of work.”  

Kasim is one such worker. Shaking flour from his hands, he shares his story, explaining that he used to own a grocery business in Idlib which was destroyed in the fighting. He now lives in Reyhanli with his wife and seven children and works most days in the hub as a daily wage labourer.

Syrian refugees help ship humanitarian food from Turkey into Syria
Photo: WFP/Sumalee Sterup-Hansen

Since receiving approval of Security Council Resolution 2165/2191 (PDF 115kb) in July 2014, the volume of goods from WFP and the larger UN community to Syria has increased exponentially, especially through the Bab al Hawa crossing. Each day 10-30 trucks pass through the hub in Reyhanli, each truck filled to the brim with approximately 20 tons of humanitarian assistance – WFP alone has sent almost 1,355 trucks to date.

Today’s transhipment process took four hours in total. The Syrian workers have transferred all the goods between the trucks, waybills are completed for each truck and UN Monitors have completed their work and given the green light for the convoy to leave. Bab al Hawa crossing is seven kilometres from the logistics hub. WFP Logistics Officers wave the trucks through the exit of the hub and we follow them to the border, joined by a Turkish police escort to ensure they do not stay the night.  

The World Food Programme helps ship humanitarian food from Turkey into Syria
Photo:WFP/Sumalee Sterup-Hansen

“The entire logistics process is like a relay race – we pass the baton from one person to the next making sure requirements are carefully checked and that the delivery plan is carefully coordinated within WFP, the wider UN and Logistics Cluster, the Turkish authorities, suppliers, transporters and WFP’s cooperating partners," says Sumalee Sterup-Hansen.

She adds that procurement is coordinated mainly through WFP headquarters in Rome with regional coordination further afield in Cairo, Amman and Bangkok. A single logistics delivery plan is arranged two to three weeks in advance and real time commodity tracking is recorded each step of the way in WFP’s Commodity Tracking System. Despite a streamlined process, challenges remain.

As the Syria crisis intensifies, so do the food requirements. What remains clear from seeing the operation up close is the impressive logistics operation required for WFP to move this assistance all the way from Mersin port to the plates of Syrians who count on this support each and every day.

Salma is one such Syrian. Displaced inside Syria, her days are consumed with longing for her family and the home she left behind in Idlib. “I don’t even know if they are still alive or if they managed to leave the country,” she says from the room she now calls home in a shelter in rural Damascus. “I stare at these walls every day wondering what our fate will be and how we will survive these dark days.”

Salma is one of 4.25 million Syrians who rely on WFP food assistance to feed their families each month inside Syria. Her school-aged children, seven and nine, have never seen the inside of a classroom, but she still has hopes that their turn will come in time. The enormous logistical effort behind the food ration Salma receives makes one of the only lasting comforts in her life possible – the ability to put food on the table for her boys.


The World Food Programme (WFP) Staffer Victoria Clasen pens a guided tour of the enormous logistical effort behind the food assistance WFP provides to displaced communities inside Syria. Starting from a warehouse belonging to one of Turkey’s major food producers in Mersin, to the trucks and ships crossing borders to bring food to Syria, Clasen paints a vivid picture that culminates in WFP’s ultimate objective: food for conflict-affected families inside Syria.

“‘I want to volunteer. Just tell me what I can do to help.’ This is all she said,” recalls Bruno, a Logistics Officer seconded from German NGO Welthungerhilfe, about his first encounter with Richie, one of six Nepalese women who reached out to WFP to offer their support to the emergency teams on the ground.  

As the coordinator and manager of WFP’s Humanitarian Staging Area (HSA) in Kathmandu, Bruno said the young woman had arrived at the strategic hub at Tribhuvan International Airport with “only with her CV and a great deal of determination,” in the hopes of joining the emergency response team.

A former operations manager at a bank, Richie was planning to move to the United States on a scholarship to study at the University of Minnesota when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck. “So many people I knew were severely affected. My family and I had been lucky to escape the earthquake unscathed. I felt compelled to do something to help those who had been less fortunate,” says Richie. She heard the newly opened WFP hub at Kathmandu’s airport was functioning as the main operational headquarters for sorting relief items arriving from all over the world, and their onward air and overland journey to affected areas. “It was exactly the place I needed to be, if I were to do something worthwhile for my people,” Richie says.

Bruno knew Richie’s banking skills, knowledge of the country’s geography, language, and hands-on, flexible approach to work would be great assets to his team. She was hired as a storekeeper right away.

Soon after, more help arrived: College teachers Babi, Sujita and Barkha and two more, Arti and Arunima, were also committed to doing their part in the rehabilitation efforts.

“There I was, surrounded by six extremely skilled and talented women, willing to go out of their way to do some of the most pressing and exhausting work -- they were all hired as tally clerks, and instantly proved they could pretty much do anything without flinching,” Bruno says.

The six women were spending up to 12 hours a day, often under the scorching sun, running warehouses, overseeing labourers and “managing big trucks,” says Babi smiling.  With Bruno’s help, they learned how national and international humanitarian players work together to respond to rapid-onset emergencies, and complex logistics operations. “It’s an incredible learning experience and I really enjoy managing the goods of hundreds of different organisations involved in relief efforts,” says Barkha. “I feel part of a global movement devoted to helping the people of Nepal.

In addition, the women have become experts at driving a forklift.

When the US Military scaled down its operations at Kathmandu’s airport, they left behind a team of six, who offered to provide training sessions to “ensure continued capacity after their departure,” explains Bruno.

“Because the forklift operators were always so busy, I couldn’t move cargo when I needed to,” says Richie. “I was happy to learn how to drive a forklift, so that I could move cargo myself, in case no one else was available.” After weeks of training, operating a forklift was second nature for Bruno’s six new humanitarians.

For some of the women, this opportunity may be bringing about a possible career change.

When Bruno and other international staff leave the Humanitarian Staging Area, Richie will continue to run operations, as the new hub supervisor. Richie is even considering postponing her Master’s degree, so that she can spend more time working with WFP and the Logistics Cluster.

“There is still so much that needs to be done at the hub, and we can’t leave now.”


Aspiring Humanitarians in Nepal

In the aftermath of the recent Nepal earthquake, a group of six local women found their way to WFP's Humanitarian Staging Area in Kathmandu, determined to support the humanitarian operation in any way they could. With a little luck, plenty of determination and the guidance of a seasoned logistician, it wasn't long before the women were managing stocks, driving forklifts and doing just what they came to do.