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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

In 2012, WFP began directly supporting the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to strengthen the existing TPDS.

To do this, WFP led the development of a Best Practice Solution called the ‘TPDS 3S model’, which serves as a national level, technology-led, best practice framework for subsidized food delivery. This model has been endorsed by the Government of India and recommended to all States across the country for consideration in their TPDS reform efforts. [photo|645324]

The TPDS 3S model can be fully adapted given specific State level contexts. WFP worked with the State Government of Odisha to test, design and share TPDS best practices. This work included testing state-of-the-art technology such as biometric authentication. The TPDS 3S model is based on WFP’s work in Odisha, as well as other best practice examples from across the country, and was developed together with the Government of India.

In 2014, WFP began working with the State of Kerala. One of the main areas of technical support included assessment of their supply chain network and recommendations on ways to improve, and subsequently, set-up a door-to-door delivery system. An in-depth analysis identified three main flows of their supply chain:

  • Flow of information (authority letters, stock reporting, release orders),
  • Flow of grains (physical movement, transportation, loading/unloading), and
  • Financial flow (buying/selling price, additional commissions, subsidy payments)

Based on the analysis of these three flows, recommendations were made to undertake a simulation by modelling its network to allow an optimization of the overall TPDS supply chain. This analysis recommended the optimal network and illustrated possible options, such as more focus on appropriate storage, quality control procedures and better optimization of transportation.

Another key recommendation was the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive supply chain management software solution, which would allow stakeholders to automate various routine tasks and forecast the movement/requirement trends. In addition, a comprehensive dashboard would be able to report against Key Performance Indicators, enabling stakeholders to monitor and make appropriate decisions.

The Benefits of Implementing WFP’s 3S model across India
The proposed TPDS 3S model, which WFP is implementing in the States of Odisha and Kerala, is flexible and can be scaled-up. It would cost an estimated US$500-600 million to be implemented across the country, and is projected to result in savings of around US$1-2 billion. Nationally, these savings could total 8-10% of the current food subsidy, representing a recovery of the investment within less than one year.

India operates one of the largest food safety nets in the world. Through the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Government aims to provide around 800 million people with subsidized monthly household rations each year–that’s about 67% of India’s population.

What we’ve achieved:

  1. Feeding 288,000 flood-affected people (and counting)

Within 72 hours of the President declaring a state of natural disaster in Malawi, WFP began distributing life-saving food assistance to the flood-affected population. To date, WFP has reached more than 288,000 flood-affected people with food assistance.  Given the magnitude of the disaster, WFP also called in air support for the first time in Malawi’s history. WFP airlifted High Energy Biscuits from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai to provide the most vulnerable, particularly children, with ready-to-eat meals. This has been crucial for those who have displaced from their homes and are without access to food or cooking facilities.

  1. Flying over broken roads to deliver humanitarian assistance

The floods have destroyed roads and rendered some areas entirely inaccessible by land. Determined to reach the most food-insecure people, WFP has transported some 200 metric tonnes of food and other vital relief items via helicopter to these areas. As co-leader of the Logistics Cluster—a working group of Government and humanitarian counterparts in the country focused on logistical issues—WFP has been transporting tents, mosquito nets, plastic sheets and other non-food items on behalf of the humanitarian community to the flood-affected population. Some 550 humanitarian personnel have also been transported by WFP air operations to deliver relief assistance and provide life-saving services.

  1. A strong and rapid response with partners

WFP is working with 11 NGO partners (two local and nine international) to respond quickly in the affected districts and scale-up assistance. Being able to immediately mobilize partners means that those in need have been promptly identified, registered and receiving WFP food assistance.


What happens next:

  1. Keep up the momentum

While the intensity of flooding has let up, it continues to rain and the wet season is forecasted to last through March.  In some areas where flood waters begin to recede, swaths of land where people once lived emerge with scattered debris of homes, belongings and farmlands that have become beaches of sand. Many people have lost everything and still urgently require food assistance. WFP is participating in a join rapid food security assessment in order to understand latest needs on the ground, whilst continuing to rapidly move food to maintain the food and nutrition security of those in need. The known number of food insecure people will likely increase, especially given the rising threat of a cholera outbreak – twenty cases have been confirmed by the Ministry of Health so far, with one death. As a contingency measure, the UN has already positioned chlorine supplies to treat contaminated water for up to 500 people.

  1. Focusing on the most vulnerable

In a country where 42 percent of young children are chronically undernourished, a disaster of this scale causes tremendous nutritional risks. This is especially the case for women and children. WFP is working with partners to identify and treat cases of acute malnutrition, as well as to provide beneficiaries information on water, hygiene, and sanitation issues so that food assistance is consumed in a safe and sanitary environment. While the general ration now includes Super Cereal, WFP will move towards tailored assistance by providing children under age five fortified blended foods to help prevent micronutrient deficiencies. As WFP acquires more demographic data, it will continue to adapt the response to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

  1. Mapping the route to recovery

The road to recovery will be long and difficult. Collective efforts are needed to restore food security and rebuild the livelihoods of many. WFP is working with the Government and other partners to identify links to other nutrition and social protection programmes and to initiate early recovery activities at the earliest possible stage, building on investments in context analysis and community planning already made in four districts in particular. This is essential to expedite the transition out of an emergency response and start to build communities’ resilience to withstand future natural disasters and economic shocks.

One month after historic floods engulfed much of southern Malawi in January 2015, devastating the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands, WFP continues to respond to the crisis by providing food assistance to flood-affected people and logistics support to the entire humanitarian community. 

“We were suddenly submerged by the waters late at night when we were sleeping,” she says. “We had no time to take any of our belongings because the priority was to remove our four children to safety.”

On 12 January, the Council of Ministers of Mozambique declared an institutional red alert for the central and northern parts of the country after heavy rains resulted in severe flooding.

“I was shocked to see all that area flooded and such a big number of families accommodated in difficult conditions,” says WFP Programme Officer Albina Francisco who was deployed to help in Quelimane province. “Each family had a small tent to live in and no food to eat at first. It has been very rewarding to be part of the WFP team helping these people.”

Esperança and her family received assistance from the Government of Mozambique and the humanitarian community soon after the floods hit. Within 48 hours of a government request, WFP positioned food to meet the basic needs of flood-affected people living in accommodation centres which had been set up by the government. WFP moved staff to the affected areas, provided immediate logistics and ICT assistance to the government and partners.

“Since we’ve been here in the accommodation centre, we’ve been getting three meals a day which makes a big difference, especially the children,” says Esperança.

Since 2008, WFP has been playing a key role in strengthening the capacity of the government to mount emergency responses when disasters strike. WFP has been helping strengthen the capacity of the National Disaster Management Institute by improving emergency preparedness and response capacity at provincial and district levels.

WFP is also working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and other actors to implement food-for-assets – or where market conditions allow – cash-for-assets activities focusing in the central and northern areas of the country, involving the rehabilitation of roads and dykes and the cleaning of irrigation channels damaged by the floods.

Until the floods came, Esperança Gonçalves (34) had been living a quiet life, running her shop and earning enough to feed her family of six in Mocuba, Quelimane province, northern Mozambique.