By MJ Schoemaker
FROM a field that not many people understood, the supply chain management profession garnered attention during the COVID-19 crisis. Amid the challenges of the pandemic, supply chain professionals were responsible for ensuring the movement of essential goods and services, including the distribution of vaccines.
Supply chain management is again making headlines as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is set to affect global supply chains and the world’s attention is on the humanitarian logistics needed to support people in Ukraine and refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Humanitarian logistics is a branch of supply chain and logistics that specialises in organising the delivery and warehousing of supplies during natural disasters and emergencies.
The rapidly intensifying conflict in Ukraine has sparked a critical and abrupt humanitarian crisis as essential supplies and services are disrupted and civilians flee the fighting.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than four million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries in the coming months.
Christian Saunders, assistant secretary general for Supply Chain at the UN reported that the first Ukraine bound convoy with critical humanitarian equipment and supplies departed the United Nations logistics base in Brindisi, Italy, on Tuesday, 1 March 2022. He commended the United Nations Global Service Centre volunteer drivers.
We live in an increasingly VUCA world, an acronym that refers to the fact that much is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – including supply chains. Imagine the additional challenges to be contended with when delivering emergency supplies into a war zone.
The families and children caught in the middle of the conflict, who may have fled their homes with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, need food, clothing, medicine and even water.
Supply chain management is essentially about getting the right goods in the right quantity to the right place at the right time at the right price. The goal is the same in humanitarian supply chains, but almost everything is uncertain and subject to rapid change at any time.
Humanitarian supply chains are unstable and subject to political and military influence. The supply chain specialists must contend with inadequate logistics infrastructure, along with the origins of and destinations for relief supplies shifting without warning.
Thorough planning, preparation and the involvement of experienced, knowledgeable supply chain professionals and logisticians is crucial. Private sector supply chain management and logistics best practices can and should be leveraged to improve the performance of humanitarian supply chains.
Economists and agricultural experts have also warned that the supply chain impact of the conflict is likely to be felt in Africa and supply chain professionals will have to rise to the challenges to manage the risks.
There is significant agricultural trade between Russia and Ukraine and the African continent. African imports from the two countries include wheat, maize, sunflower oil, barley and soybeans. The major importers are Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa.
Economists have also warned that the war in Ukraine could push oil prices up and increase inflation in Africa.
The rise of supply chain management continues. There is growing recognition of the importance of the profession and the need for skilled, suitably qualified, professional supply chain specialists who hold the power not just to get goods from A to B, but to save lives and build economies.
MJ Schoemaker is President of SAPICS, the professional body for supply chain management in southern Africa