Humanitarian Aid Logistics: The Wenchuan and Haiti Earthquakes Compared

Humanitarian Aid Logistics: The Wenchuan and Haiti Earthquakes Compared

Anthony Beresford (Cardiff University, UK) and Stephen Pettit (Cardiff University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-824-8.ch004
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This chapter contrasts the response to the Wenchuan earthquake (May 2008) which took place in a landlocked region of China with that of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which as an island nation, was theoretically easily accessible to external aid provision via air or sea. In the initial period following the Wenchuan earthquake, the response was wholly internal as a detailed needs assessment was carried out. Once the Chinese authorities had established the scale of response required, international assistance was quickly allowed into the country. Several multimodal solutions were devised to minimize the risk of supply breakdown. Haiti required substantial external aid and logistics support, but severe organizational and infrastructural weaknesses rendered the supply chain extremely vulnerable locally. This translated to a mismatch between the volume of aid supplied and logistics capability, highlighting the importance of “last-mile” distribution management. The two earthquakes posed extreme challenges to the logistics operations, though both required a mix of military and non-military input into the logistics response. Nonetheless, in each case the non-standard logistics solutions which were devised broadly met the requirements for effective aid distribution in extreme environments.
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Accessing Disaster Areas

Recent natural disasters have emphasized the importance of emergency relief response logistics. One of the most serious problems affecting the modern world is the vulnerability of nations or regions in relation to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, drought or man-made crises: civil unrest, war, political/tribal disturbance (Pettit and Beresford, 2005). Even though modern technology is often used to predict natural disasters, they are still, often, unpredictable. The most unpredictable disasters are natural disasters and they may occur with little or no warning (Wijkman and Timberlake, 1998). For this reason, they cause major damage because of their unexpected impact and the fact that the population is not prepared for them. This results in those in charge of the relief operation primarily focusing on response rather than preparedness, so the system becomes reactive rather than proactive.

There are various difficulties that can occur during a humanitarian aid operation. One of these is to access disasters which occur in landlocked countries, or landlocked regions of maritime countries, making the logistics of the response operation even more complex as, in the first case, it requires a neighboring state to be involved for transit (Pettit and Beresford, 2005). In the case of disasters in landlocked regions, distance, inaccessibility and difficult terrain form the main challenges (Jennings et al., 2002). A different set of problems arise when a country, faced with the consequences of a natural disaster, is unable either through lack of internal capability, or because the disaster has rendered the authorities unable to respond in any meaningful way, unable to provide the necessary response. In such circumstances reliance on third-party countries becomes a necessity. In the recent past there have been several major earthquakes and two are notable because of the problems outlined above.

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