Wednesday, 6 June 2012

General Distribution in Haiti 2010

There is a risk in reading Surely More Interesting...., that you may come to believe that logistics is so impossibly difficult with all these potential woes regarding your sock draw, feeding your children or loading them into a car how can you possibly be expected to get it right in a remote, austere or conflict environment.

So This week we are focusing on a good news story!!  As you will have come to appreciate we rarely name the agencies involved in any of our stories unless we have express permission to do so.  So this story is about a character called Miss Sandytoes (a name of her own choosing I tell you).  Miss Sandytoes is not a trained logistician more a film producer/circus performer ninja (the latter being manifest in kicking the glasses off my face in a random banana rope swinging incident - that is a whole other story).

Sandytoes was faced with an IDP camp of 55000+ people whose tarp shelters were falling into disrepair just as rainy season came.   With a little bit of charm and guile she managed to elicit 11000 tarps out of the  American Red Cross, on the rough calculation of each family group being 5 persons which proved to be pretty accurate.

Sandytoes then realised the enormity of distributing to 11000 individuals in a day and had a little wobble in confidence. The camp was reasonably peaceful for a Haitian IDP camp, they certainly hadn't had the gun battles of camps nearer the centre of Port au Prince.  The camp had however seen it's share of violent assaults and malicious woundings.  Processing 11000 people in a day could potentially cause a fair bit of conflict and see an increase in these incidents.

We sat down over a Prestige beer and talked through what the process should be.  We agreed that there were key things we needed to do keep things peaceful, principal among these was a high flow rate; meaning we needed to process between 80 and 100 people an hour for 10 hours at 5 registration stations to complete in the two and a half days we had given ourselves.

We walked our beers down to the distribution area and saw that there was a natural flow to the land which would allow people to enter the distribution at one point and flow throw to leave at another without the lines those processed and those to be processed crossing.  Miss Sandytoes had rightly identified that standing in the sun was not going to work for everyone, the aged, the sick, the pregnant could all do without a day in the heat.  The number of people expected was far too big for us to consider shade netting and no amount of animation was likely to stop anything other than a large queue.

Sandytoes came up with the idea of a mobile triage of community leaders bringing vulnerables forward to a second entrance to the process, with an appropriately trained medic assessing their vulnerability to prevent abuse.  She also knew that one of her team "Big Marc" was an amazing MC and known to most of the camp residents, she appointed him to communicate the messages for the day from a vantage point above the queue, interspersed with some entertainment (a nice touch you don't always see in humanitarian distributions but as valid in that queueing situation as it would be in a Disneyland queue).

That night Miss Sandytoes pre-positioned the stock in the distribution area with a little help from the Brazilian Minustah troops, a couple of random missionaries who turned up and a raft of  volunteers from our own organisation and placed it under guard.

The next 2 1/2 days were hard hard work but I have to say it was one of the best executed general distributions I have ever seen effected.  All the little problems that occur in distributions still occurred, small arguments and rivalries, people with lost tokens or ID cards but the high flow rate across the range of registration points meant frustrations were short lived as no one wanted to get left behind by the rapidly moving queue.

Miss Sandytoes nailed one of the hardest things to get right in aid logistics by calmly looking at the facts and doing the maths. Sure there was a little guidance required but this distribution shows how often only a little input leads to outstanding logistics performance.  Miss Sandytoes, I'd work with you again anywhere  but will bring a helmet for the banana rope incident next time.

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