A Glimpse into the Relief Effort
Debriefed with Major NGOs and UN
Assessments Flawed
So Many NGOs
The Centrality and Reality of Logistics
The Corporate Role
Learning for Future Humanitarian Crises

We would like to thank those individuals and organizations who participated in Fritz Institute's meetings:

Partha Bardhan
Capt Somesh Batra
Marine Container Services
Diskorn Chantrasomboon
Mercury Logistics Co.
Bernard Chomilier
Former Director of Logistics, IFRC
Alan Court
Lynn Fritz
Fritz Institute
Richard Gervais
Consultant, Tradebeam
Sumith Guruge
Ann Hasselbalch
Sompong Jirapornsuwan
Mercury Logistics Co.
Arjun Katoch
Vinod Menon
Mich Mizushima
Fritz Institute
K Mohan
Levi Straus & Company
Jagdish Pail
Levi Straus & Company
Robin Ritch
Capt Anil Sahni
Marine Container Services
Anisya Thomas
Fritz Institute

This journal includes the observations of a team of private sector and humanitarian sector professionals who joined together to observe and understand the complexities of humanitarian relief during the Tsunami operations in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. The team included:
Bernard Chomilier, who has directed humanitarian responses for most of the major crises around the world over the last 25 years as the head of logistics for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and on the logistics team at Medecins Sans Frontieres
Richard Gervais and Sumith Guruge who are senior logistics executives each with over 20 years in global logistics
Anisya Thomas, Ph.D., Managing Director of Fritz Institute and Mitsuko “Mich” Mizushima, its chief logistics officer, led the separate field visits, leveraging their contacts with a wide variety of global and local humanitarian organizations

The Tsunami will be remembered as a watershed event in the history of humanitarian relief. The sheer scale of the disaster and its impact on so many countries challenged the international relief delivery system. Humanitarian organizations scrambled to develop processes and methods to simultaneously operate in multiple locations, while maintaining communication with their donors and the public who responded in an unprecedented manner.

With the intent of using the Tsunami experience as a crucible for learning how to improve and augment the system of relief, Fritz Institute brought together a small group of experienced executives from the private and humanitarian sectors in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. After a day of discussions and sharing of impressions in New Delhi, teams were dispatched to India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. We visited with representatives from the major relief agencies including the UN, Red Cross and international NGOs. We also had the opportunity to interview several representatives from the governments and private sector. While much of our investigation had a logistics focus, we also tried to understand the broader context of the many small and large players that were operating in the various disaster theaters and the collaboration and coordination between them. After the field trip, we reconvened in Mumbai to share our observations and note commonalities and differences. These observations record our initial impressions in the field and provide guidance to specific, systematic research projects that we have initiated to validate them.

We have now initiated a large scale research project that will systematically record the impressions of beneficiaries, NGOs, the governments, religious groups and the private sector in India and Sri Lanka to recreate the dynamics of the first 30 days of the relief effort. We are also documenting the challenges that large international agencies faced in building the supply chains for their relief operations. We look forward to sharing our learnings with you.

Anisya Thomas
Managing Director

The Tsunami relief effort included every major international humanitarian organization. The overwhelming and unprecedented response from the public encouraged organizations, including many whose mandate did not include humanitarian relief, to be present in some significant way.

In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where local capacity was limited and where the damage and loss of life was the greatest, the relief operation was dominated by the majors: IFRC, Save the Children, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNJLC, WFP, WHO, etc.

What resources were necessary to deliver goods to so many in need? How can one be sure that each humanitarian organization is doing what it does best?

In India, the government signaled its intention to manage the relief operations without external assistance. The vast majority of the relief in India was provided by the national and state governments, and the district governance infrastructure was impressive with its ability to register and monitor the operations of NGOs. In Nagaputtinum, the most affected district in Tamilnadu, there were 281 NGOs registered with the district during the first two weeks of operation. The district played an active role in allocating territories and coordinating relief through mechanisms such as regular NGO coordination meetings.

In Sri Lanka, the first weeks after the disaster were characterized by chaos, as the government struggled to come to grips with the magnitude of the disaster and put together a cohesive response. There were over 280 flights that came into Colombo without airway bills in the first two weeks, and the airport was chaotic as relief supplies poured in without adequate infrastructure to handle the volume.

In Thailand, where the number of international casualties were the greatest, the focus was on identifying bodies and flying tourists back to their homes. Families of the dead and missing poured in and the diplomatic community worked with the government and private sector to organize evacuation flights and to serve as a resource to grieving relatives.

Although south India had not experienced a major natural disaster recently, the improvements made in the government infrastructure since the earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, four years ago was apparent. The administrative infrastructure responded immediately: documenting, coordinating and planning.

The local response was immediate and huge. Corporations, individuals and relief agencies sprang into action. The India Red Cross mobilized 300 youth volunteers to clear the bodies of the deceased, and organizations like Oxfam and UNICEF, -- with well-developed operations as a consequence of long-term development presence -- mobilized, immediately.

Large amounts of money poured in from the local public, the private sector and the government. Very poor people were contributing to disaster relief, giving what they could, food, shelter, materials, etc. Local universities like the Madras School of Social Work sent counselors to the field, and medical personnel from all the region’s hospitals were immediately dispatched to tend to the wounded.

Sri Lanka
The road to Galle was clogged with relief supplies being transported in convoy all along the coast. Warehouses and transport were in short supply. The airport ran out of fuel, and lacking clear direction from the government, there was a deluge of unsolicited, inappropriate relief supplies including too much water, old clothing, baked beans, canned soda, etc.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross was overwhelmed by the response from Red Cross Societies around the world. While the additional capacity was welcome, the number of VIP visitors also burdened the system. “Our aspiration in the next disaster is to be like the Indian Red Cross”, said Mr. Nirmal Kumar, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. “We would like to have enough capacity to be able to handle our needs.”

In Sri Lanka, it was clear that the private sector, particularly the logistics community, which could have played a big role, was not mobilized adequately. The Sri Lankan Logistics Association, as well as executives from every major logistics company, had access to transportation vendors and warehousing facilities that they were willing to donate free of charge to the relief efforts. What was missing, however, was an easy interface - an efficient way for the relief community to link to the local corporations.

Can all participating humanitarian organizations be required to participate in collaborative meetings and planning? Would there have been time or benefit from that?

Generally, initial assessments were extremely unreliable which resulted in inadequate planning of staff and supplies.

The initial assessments by virtually every international humanitarian organization and government in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand were inaccurate. Due to a combination of factors. International relief organizations would send teams in to assess the damage. Most organizations said that their assessment were wrong because they typically depend on local organizations to provide the input, but, in this case, they didn’t have local staff to rely on.

In addition, the logistics infrastructure was broken down to the point that it took days, or even weeks in some cases (such as Indonesia), to access parts of the Tsunami torn region to have a realistic understanding of how people and communities were affected. On top of that, the scale was unheard of and the destruction of roads, bridges and telecommunications meant that evaluation was a moving target with new information coming in as new territory was explored.

How can assessments be made more accurate? Is it possible for local NGOs and international agencies to collaborate more closely to develop assessments?

I sat for a moment in the train in Galle, in which over 1000 people perished when it was submerged. I said a prayer for those who had lost their lives on a journey to visit friends and relatives or to return home. As I looked out of the window, I could not help but notice the bee hive of activity that was happening.

There were USAID tractors and earthmoving equipment clearing debris. AusAid was testing water. The able-bodied men from the affected areas had been enlisted in a program to clear debris. Small NGOs had set up makeshift compounds. There were tents of every hue, pink, blue, yellow, olive, representing the variety of relief organizations, each with their own plans and supplies.

There were people from all over the world helping. How much of this would really help, I wondered. How many of those helping had done this before? What was the mix of good intention, expertise and experience?
- Anisya Thomas

This experience has us wondering if an authority or organization can be assigned as the central coordinating body. How can local governments identify a single agency to direct the overall relief effort in such a massive emergency? Can just any NGO enter a disaster site and offer its services? Is there a way to assign service roles based on expertise and resources?

Many of the humanitarian staff were brought out of Darfur and redeployed in Asia because it was the bigger disaster at the moment. It was very disconcerting to realize that the humanitarian community doesn’t have an adequate deployable pool of trained logisticians to draw from in times of crisis.

This natural disaster drew attention to the consequences of not having adequate logistics plans and trained personnel available to draw upon locally in the countries affected by the Tsunami, as well as from the pool of international staff of the major humanitarian organizations.

There were so many logistics problems that relief supplies were stalled throughout the region and lacked the expertise, tools and information to solve these difficulties. It is our hope that this will lead to a great appreciation and understanding of the importance of logistics for the first time.

The list of international corporations who were moved to donate to this relief effort included materials from all the well-known brands. This was a time when the heart dominated the response. Employees contributed to their favorite charities, and their companies matched them.

In every major corporation, the question was asked: "What can we do? How can we help?"
Although many corporations like Citibank, TPG, Federal Express, and the TATA group etc., provided in-kind resources and expertise, it was also clear that the corporate sector lacked a coordinated and organized voice. The linkages with relief organizations were ad hoc and few. Core competences were hard to leverage at the last minute even though the will to do so existed. Relief agencies and the government did not have the infrastructure to handle the offers for help.

How can corporations assist with the reconstruction phase?

During the acute phase of this disaster, plenty of corporations were visible. Now with the media attention gone, I am eager to see what role corporations will play in the long-run, what will be the extent of their ongoing involvement.
- Bernard Chomilier

These observations raise questions about corporate involvement: Is there a role for corporations? How do corporations interact with humanitarian organizations?

Local capacity is so important. The immediate response is always local. The most lives and the greatest relief is local. It is local organizations that understand the culture. They are the ones that know that the fishermen will not accept used clothes. They are the ones that speak the language. It is imperative that the local relief infrastucture is developed in vulnerable communities.
- Anisya Thomas

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