But with help streaming in, overstreched authorities were dealing with the logistical nightmare of getting it to the needy.
Tons of supplies were backlogged in Indonesia, with thousands of boxes filled with drinking water, crackers, blankets and other basic necessities piled high in an airplane hangar nearly 300 miles from Banda Aceh (search), the wrecked main city in the disaster zone.
Where are the UN ships? Where are the UN aircraft? Is the UN still holding "donors conferences?" According to the Diplomad they are. Spending money locally for food and other supplies, as the UN does, is a good idea. However, you still have to get it from point A to point B. In mass quantities. In the watery world of island chains and long distances, the best means of transport is ship - especially ships that can offload their own cargo (no reliance on shore facilities). Helicopters don't have the range, airplanes can't carry the volume and need runways.
In a previous post, I questioned the UN logistical planning system. It seems I was, in part, wrong to make a sweeping condemnation. At least one part of the UN, the World Food Program, has:
(a) a strategic planner:
"The number of people affected by natural disasters will probably double over the next 30 years," Dianne Spearman, director of strategic planning of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told delegates at a two-day WFP shipping conference.
She said people in developing countries would be the most affected and that the WFP, the world's largest food aid agency, would have to respond by moving very large quantities of food to victims at very short notice, often by ship.
(b) the sense to be working on a contigency plan:
Spearman said the WFP was making contingency plans with countries to deal with natural disasters, in regions where drought and floods were frequent, but was struggling to obtain funding from donors.
(c) shipping contracts:
The Rome-based WFP's ocean transport service (OTS) uses a panel of 13 ship brokers located worldwide to arrange shipments of food aid to the needy.
In 2000 the WFP moved about 3.54 million tonnes of food aid representing around $240 million in ocean freight.
In 2001 the aid agency chartered an average of 260 bulk carriers and booked an estimated 30,000 containers.
The WFP has on average 40 to 45 bulk carriers, loaded with food aid commodities, always on charter. These ships can, on short notice, be re-routed to meet sudden emergencies.
Futher, the WFP also runs a UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy. This facility is exactly what its name implies and carries a reasonable supply of equipment for shipment to troubled spots within 24/48 hours. Among the items available is a water system capable of cleaning up water for up to 20,000 people. It fits neatly into a box that weighs about 2000 pounds (950 kilos).
But logistics is more than having ready to go kits, as is evidenced by this press release:
Nairobi, 29 December 2004 - WFP is facing serious difficulties in taking relief food to the population of Hafun, an island in northern Somalia battered by Sunday’s Indian Ocean tsunami.
WFP quickly responded to the tragedy by sending two trucks loaded with 31 tonnes of food aid to the area.
However the road leading in to the town has been cut off by the floods and the trucks are presently stuck 60 kilometres away, unable to proceed. WFP staff and local authorities are trying to mobilize some 4x4 trucks to transport these urgently required supplies.
Half of the food delivery is expected to arrive this evening allowing distributions to start tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, another 52 tonnes will be dispatched from Bossaso to reinforce stocks available be distributed.
WFP staff describe a state of total desolation in Hafun. All 4500 inhabitants of the island seemed to have lost all they possessed with most of the houses destroyed by the waters.
When the tidal wave struck on December 26 people fled to the hills near the town empty-handed. They have no shelter, no water, no food, and no medicines. Cases of diarrhoea and other diseases are already being reported.
The displaced families are asking for urgent assistance in terms of water, shelter, food and medicines.
WFP is making contingency plans to provide 255 tonnes of food to at least 15,000 people affected by the tidal waves.
The area most seriously affected by the tsunami waves was the northeastern coast of Puntland – an area not densely populated. Locations worst hit include the villages of Hafun, Foar, Garan, Bander Beyla, Maraya, Dharirbar and Gara’ad.
According to initial estimates, 30,000 to 50,000 people may have been affected. Number of casualties are, however, hard to confirm. The north-eastern region of Puntland is already facing serious food shortages due to a four-year drought followed by floods.
Each month WFP gives assistance to some 120,000 people in the area.
As I indicated in my earlier post, I believe the UN needs to have a number of prepositioned ships capable of "self unloading" to carry emergency materials and equipment to hard hit areas. An example of such a vessel is the "LASH" type ("Lighter Aboard Ship") which consists of a mother ship and what are essentially barges filled with cargo. A pusher boat takes the barges to shore where they can be unloaded. Some LASH barges can hold up to 380 tons of material and each ship can carry up to 80 barges. As you can calculate, that's a significant amount of aid delivery capability.
Why ships? 44% of the world's population lives within 90 miles (150 km) of the ocean, so it is the best means of getting emergency supplies to that population.
Trucking supplies overland to people affected by a tidal wave (who obviously live near the water) is not as efficient as getting the goods there by the sea, the nearest major transportation venue.