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Interactive Maps Make Logistics Planning Easier

Copyright: WFP/Judith Schuler

Getting food assistance to hungry people in Chad and other remote areas of Africa's Sahel region is hard at the best of times. And with the region now hit by a major hunger crisis, the pressure on WFP's logistics team is higher than ever. Some new mapping technology is providing welcome support.

by Leighla Bowers

ROME -- Convoys of more than 100 trucks arrived this month in Abeche, Chad, a town on the edge of the Sahara desert that could be said to be in the middle of nowhere. Their 3-week journey from Port Sudan 2,500km away on Africa’s east coast highlights the extreme logistics challenges faced by WFP in delivering food to remote, land-locked destinations.
 
An estimated 270,000 refugees in Eastern Chad depend on WFP for food assistance, and to get it in place before the June rainy season, WFP will deliver over 30,000 metric tonnes by all means possible -- through the jungles of Cameroon and across the desert of Sudan. This urgency also led WFP to organize two emergency airlifts, which brought nearly 200 metric tonnes of Plumpy’doz, a fortified peanut paste intended for some 36,000 children under two years of age in eastern Chad. Although effective, airlifts are expensive - making proper planning of commodity arrival essential to reducing costs.
 
Now a new tool is helping logisticians not just to plan operations but to visualize them.  New interactive supply chain maps can now display available ports and their average capacities, map out possible land corridors and calculate estimated distances it might take to go from one port to a specific warehouse.
“I have to say these maps are impressive,” says Nuru Jumaine, a Logistics Officer based in Chad. “They display the time it takes to use various corridors, and also the estimated time it takes to arrive at a destination from a certain port. For example, we can see from the maps that it took one transport contractor 56 days on average to go from Ngaoundéré to Abéché, which is almost five times the norm. Using this information, I can speak with the contractor to find out the reasons for a longer journey.”
 
WFP uses tried and tested routes to transport large quantities of food assistance, but circumstances can change and logisticians have to re-assess the possibilities. Around 40 percent of food destined for Chad used to make the 3,500km journey from Benghazi, Libya, until conflict broke out in 2011. Operations re-started, but with renewed fighting in the Libyan town of Kufra along the route earlier this year, alternatives to this Saharan desert route were sought.
 
The challenges of a land-locked country are particularly complicated and delivering food throughout the Sahel shows the complex tapestry of WFP’s logistics operations in action. But ocean transport  can also prove to be tricky, depending on the capacity of ports.
 
For example, food arriving in Douala Port in Cameroon, West Africa, must be transferred to smaller vessels which then shuttle into port once a week in an effort to keep port congestion at a minimum.  In this respect, the interactive maps are particularly helpful as shipping and logistics staff can visualize maximum port capacity levels, allowing them to make decisions to transfer their shipments via alternate country ports if needed.
 
With the many moving parts and coordination required for an emergency regional response, this new technology is making the job for logisticians a little bit easier.