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Hubs and Spokes, A New Answer To Ethiopia's Challenges

Thirty-two heavy trucks laden with wheat, oil and pulses are revving their engines as they prepare to roll out of the compound. On convoy days, the works starts early at WFP’s storage depot in Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia.

DIRE DAWA -- “The drivers like to get their trucks on the road well before dawn," says Marcel Lecours, WFP logistics officer in this city on the edge of the country’s troubled Somali Region. "Once that Somali sun gets up, it can get pretty hot.”

Most of the trucks in the convoy are bound for Jijiga, capital of the Somali Region, 340 kilometers to the south. A few will travel further south another 160 kilometers to Degehabur over increasingly difficult roads. 

WFP convoys like this one are becoming increasingly common across the vast, semi-desert lowlands of Ethiopia’s Somali Region. They are part of the new “hubs-and-spokes” delivery system that WFP and the Ethiopian Government jointly introduced last October to provide food and nutrition relief in one of the organization’s most challenging operational environments.

Delivering assistance in the Somali Region has always been complicated by conflict, an extremely poor infrastructure over a huge area, a complex clan-based society and a pastoral people almost permanently on the move. It grew even more difficult last year as result of the devastation wrought by prolonged drought and the global rise in food and fuel prices.

At the height of the crisis last year, 1.9 million Somali residents—close to half the population—needed help. WFP was managing to reach, at best, less than 50 percent of those in need. 

To meet the challenge, WFP and the Government introduced the US$ 5.8 million “hubs-and-spokes” system, which is built around five storage hubs across the Region. A secondary transport system uses local companies to move supplies from the hubs along “spokes” supplying 186 final distribution points. 

After a slow start, the system is now beginning to show results. Between October and December, WFP dispatched enough food to the hubs to feed 1.5 million people for nearly two months. From the hubs, 86 percent of that food had been delivered to final distribution points.

“We’re still on a learning curve with this system. But we’re finally moving in the right direction,” says Lecours.