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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:

  • 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 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.

Download the WFP Logistics brochure

Logistics Latest

Word had spread around the village that WFP would be trying to drop vegetable oil from the air. As the Ilyshin-76 cargo plane approached the village many people rushed out to see for themselves and there was excitement and cheers as the hatch of the plane opened releasing small orange parachutes attached to blue boxes.

Vegetable oil (fortified with vitamin A and D) is a key item that WFP provides to people it serves across the world, including in South Sudan. Normally, the agency moves this commodity by road or river to various parts of the country but when insecurity and poor roads hampers movement via land WFP resorts to moving this commodity by air.

Each month WFP has to move an average 300 metric tonnes of vegetable oil through helicopter airlifts into hard to reach areas, particularly in the states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile which have been most affected by the conflict that has been raging in the country since December 2013.

“Airlifts have worked well but the quantity of oil we move at once by helicopters is quite small when you look at the scale of the need,” said Peter Schaller, WFP Chief of Logistics in South Sudan. “We could vastly improve our efficiency and save a lot of money with the delivery of oil through airdrops.”

In a bid to cut the use of helicopters for air delivery of vegetable oil by 50 percent, saving the operation a potential $14 million per year, the WFP logistics teams began working with the US-based company SkyLife in late 2014 to develop a system to airdrop the vegetable oil out of a plane flying 200 metres above the ground.

The system that was tested in Ganyiel involved two or three tins or plastic containers of oil wrapped in a bag and placed in a box with padding. Twenty eight boxes were stacked on top of a palette in the aircraft and when the hatch of the plane opened all the boxes left at once and a 60 inch parachute opened for each box. The parachute ensures the boxes land safely on the ground with minimum damage.

“It was the first time we were delivering oil by parachutes and everyone was very nervous but I must say it has been quite some success,” said Adham Effendi, WFP Logistics Officer who supervised the test of the innovative system. “We still need to improve the system to ensure minimal losses and operational efficiency but I am hopeful that in the next few months we would be doing several airdrops of oil.”

South Sudan is one of the most challenging places where WFP works and movement of commodities by road or river are often hampered by poor infrastructure or insecurity. Therefore it is vital that WFP finds innovative methods of delivery that match the cost and efficiency of more traditional methods.

Last year, WFP logistics teams in the country successfully trialled the airdrop of Super Cereal Plus – a specialised nutritious food used to prevent and treat malnutrition in children. This has since become a viable option for delivering this critical commodity in hard to reach areas where insecurity and limited infrastructure stalls movement by road or river transport.

Heads Up!  Vegetable Oil Falls from the Sky in South Sudan

GANYIEL – The villagers in Ganyiel, a small village surrounded by swampland in southern Unity State of South Sudan, have become accustomed to seeing planes airdrop bags of cereals and pulses but seeing vegetable oil falling from the sky was something new. This happened in May when the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) carried out its first successful airdrop of vegetable oil.

1) Setting-up a strategic staging area in Djibouti for rapid dispatch of food and relief items. WFP, as lead agency of the Logistics Cluster, has established a logistics hub in Djibouti for the humanitarian community to receive, store and send urgently required food and relief items by air and sea. Given its close proximity to Yemen and existing storage, airport and port facilities, the Djibouti hub is well-placed to rapidly consolidate and dispatch humanitarian cargo. The establishment of additional staging areas are planned in order to ease the flow of the relief cargo into Yemen. Cargo is also being shipped from the UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD), upon request of humanitarian partners. Since March 2015, UNHRD has dispatched over 150 metric tons of relief items (worth US$1.1 million) and equipment to the staging area in Djibouti and to Yemen on behalf of WHO, WFP, CARE and Mercy Corps.

2) Establishing a fuel supply for humanitarian partners inside Yemen. The security situation has made importing fuel into Yemen challenging and has caused humanitarian operations to slow. Through the Logistics Cluster, WFP has been able to import fuel into Yemen and made available to humanitarian organisations. From April to May, over 65,000 litres were distributed to 30 organisations, through the Logistics Cluster fuel provision service.


3) Transporting humanitarian aid, fuel and supplies by sea. WFP has chartered a number of dedicated vessels to shuttle food and relief cargo from Djibouti to the Yemeni port of Hudaydah. During the recent five-day ‘humanitarian pause’, WFP managed to move a sea shipment of 120,000 litres of fuel into Hudaydah. So far, a total of 420,000 litres of fuel and 500 m3 of relief cargo have been delivered on behalf of IOM/SOS, CARE, UNICEF and UNHCR to ensure operations continue.

4) Creating an air bridge to channel critical cargo from Djibouti to Yemen. Upon request, WFP’s aviation team is providing ad-hoc aircraft capacity for partners. In the last week, two flights were conducted carrying emergency food rations, such as WFP High Energy Biscuits and medical supplies from the International Medical Corps. WFP also aims to pre-position an aircraft full time in Djibouti to transport humanitarian cargo when needed.

5) Providing storage and transport services to humanitarian partners on the ground.  In addition, the Logistics Cluster is facilitating the transport of humanitarian cargo to Yemen, to support the transport needs of the humanitarian community. For example, the coordination of available storage space in Djibouti is being facilitated by the Logistics Cluster, as well as inter-agency sea transport from the Djibouti staging area. Crucial information such as logistics services and operational constraints are shared during weekly coordination meetings in Amman, Jordan and Djibouti as well as through a dedicated online platform.

6) Providing air services for aid workers. With no other way of reaching conflict-affected or isolated areas, aid workers are able to fly to Yemen with the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS). Currently, UNHAS is providing flights between Djibouti and Sana’a in Yemen, and will continue as long as it is needed. WFP aims to relocate its aircraft base to Sana’a if the security situation allows.


Yemen: How is WFP supporting the humanitarian community?

Since the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, WFP has been working tirelessly to reach desperate families with life-saving food assistance. WFP is also helping humanitarian partners to deliver assistance by providing critical logistics support and services. Here are six ways that WFP is supporting the humanitarian community in Yemen:

A New Challenge

[photo|646332]Recently, Alastair was called to support WFP’s operations in response to the Mozambique floods, which affected around 370,000 people. A few days later, he was on a plane to help us to deliver food for about 55,000 people. Faced with downed bridges and blocked roadways, WFP relied on helicopters to reach cut-off villages and communities across the country.

We asked Alastair to tell us what a normal day was like ‘in the field’ and here’s what he had to say…

What it Means to Work in Logistics at WFP

Sunday is an ideal day to get out of the office and into the field. For today’s mission we’re operating from a village called Quelimane and using Morrumbala as a transit point. Morrumbala is about 120 kms to the north-east of Quelimane, and is the furthest we can transport food by road. From here, the WFP helicopter will provide the ‘final mile’.  

When you’re going on mission, it’s important to prepare beforehand because anything can happen. Too often I just rush off and regret not taking things I need…

  • hat
  • sunscreen
  • camera with charged battery
  • rain jacket
  • reading glasses
  • hi-glo WFP vest
  • ear-plugs
  • water
  • pocket multi-tool
  • sudoku (long flights can be incredibly boring!)
  • a form of ID in case we run into a sticky situation.

[photo|646307]… yep, got it all. I’m good to go!  

Our flight crews treat this as just another routine mission, however quite a lot of planning has taken place to make it work. For example, we need to bring enough fuel for the helicopter to enable a full day’s operations as well as the right quantities of WFP food. We also need personnel at each of the landing points to receive the food, as they will be managing the final distribution. In today’s case, that will be World Vision.

We depart with two and a half tons of food, and fly over a huge marsh that is totally uninhabited before landing in Mone, a small isolated town on the banks of a flooded river, for our first delivery. Once completed, we set-off for our transit point, Morrumbala. The 15-minute flight was spent killing dozens of huge flies that invaded the helicopter - they are nasty things and they bite. 

As we landed, a large crowd gathered, mostly children who were full of excitement. The helicopter was operating from here all of last week, so they were familiar with it. We load up with more WFP food and are off to our next destination… 

We followed a river surrounded by widespread flooding, and landed in another small village called Chilomo, which is near the border with Malawi. We then returned to Morrumbala to refuel for one more delivery. 

A Rewarding Day

[photo|646308]The highlight of the day is unquestionably the children, who are all so excited, inquisitive and wanting to be part of everything. I am always amazed at their ingenuity and ability to make things from the most basic components. One case today was a little boy who had seen the pilots wearing the headsets, so he made his own. When I saw him around the helicopter I thought the captain deserved to see this so I lifted him on-board. He was in awe and the captain was most impressed. 

After our final delivery, we turned east and flew for one hour over this vast landscape, back to our base at Quelimane. It was a long and hot day, and we delivered 12 tonnes of food and a variety of non-food items to inaccessible populations. As I always say… with WFP, any day in the field is a good day in the field!

Alastair is a logistics expert. He’s been working with us at WFP for almost 20 years in some of the most challenging emergency responses – from organizing the delivery of food aid in countries rocked by civil war, cyclones, earthquakes and floods to navigating the obstacles of providing humanitarian assistance during the Ebola Response