Being prepared logistically for disasters

The efficiency of humanitarian relief operations during a disaster, whether natural or man-made, depends to a large extent on humanitarian logistics.

so as to make different stakeholders understand their roles in assistance and emergency response and take appropriate steps to respond effectively to reduce the adverse impacts of disaster, the World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA), conducted a five-day Emergency Logistics Training at Metta Resorts & Spa in Paro, which ended yesterday.

Experts in various logistics fields shared their expertise and experiences in the field of emergency telecommunications, supply chain partnership, logistics and contracting, emergency and warehouse hubs during the training. Experiences were also shared from the Nepal earthquake.

Talking to Business Bhutan, Piet Vochten, Resident Coordinator (Acting-in charge) of UN in Bhutan said the UN agencies are working together with the government agencies in Bhutan and especially with the DDM to be better prepared should a natural disaster strike Bhutan.

“This could be an earthquake, but might also be floods, landslides or windstorms. When in the event of such a disaster, the government then requests support. The UN agencies are ready to assist. Depending on the size of the need, i.e. the impact of the disaster, the response will be met with in-country resources or we will have added support coming from our regional offices,” he added.

The Emergency Logistics training is, meanwhile, aimed to assist relevant government agencies be better prepared in terms of logistics should a disaster impact the country. In the event a disaster is of such a magnitude that the government feels the need to request assistance from the UN, WFP will review its in-country capacity to assist with addressing the disaster. If needed additional resources from outside the country can be brought in.

Piet Vochten added, “Being prepared for future natural disasters is important for countries susceptible to natural disasters like Bhutan, which is suffering from the impact of climate change, increased frequency and magnitude of erratic rainfall, landslides and floods. Because of tectonic movements, earthquakes are also a major risk factor for Bhutan. The focus of WFP is therefore assisting the government to be better prepared when such an unfortunate event happens in order to save lives and make sure the affected people receive the necessary assistance in a timely manner.”

Deliberating on how prepared Bhutan is in terms of logistics in times of disaster, Sr. Program Officer with DDM, Sonam Deki said logistics could pose huge challenge during the time of disasters and that Bhutan is preparing itself in this area.

She added that one of the most important provisions within the DMAct of Bhutan 2013 is the clause authorizing Dzongkhag DM Committee to provide immediate response and relief using their own resources (which will be reimbursed) and the emergency procurement clause which does away with the need to follow normal procurement procedures during emergencies.

According to her, another important step towards preparedness has been the adoption of the Incident Command System. Under this, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is identified as the lead for the logistics desk and the ministry had already prepared their sector disaster management and contingency plan.

Meanwhile, the WFP in collaboration with the government had recently conducted the Logistics Capacity Assessment (LCA). This assessment provides important information about existing logistics capacity in the country. The Dzongkhags for which Disaster Management and Contingency Plans have been prepared have been asked to identify FCB stores and local vendors for supply of relief items during emergencies. As a next step towards logistics preparedness, the DDM will be disseminating the LCA findings and carrying out other activities to enhance preparedness in this area.

Naiten Wangchuk, the CEO of Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL), said their role in such scenario is to reserve food. Around 1,400 MT of rice have been reserved at the national level and 360 MT for the SARRC region.

“With the increasing population and food consumption, there has been a need to increase the storage capacity and FCBL is very soon planning to submit the proposal to the cabinet. There are gewog level farm shops filled with essential food items and should there be any kind of disasters these farm shops will help,” he said.

The training concluded with the need to strengthen logistics preparedness of national actors, network and engage with diverse stakeholders, enhance logistics clusters operational capacity and learn and drive best practices.

Ratindra Khatri, a facilitator from Nepal, said many disasters cannot be prevented, but if prepared would minimize the loss and help to normalize the situation in a short span of time.

“To take lesson from Nepal, Bhutan must establish strong co-ordination mechanism to mobilize all available resources at the time of crises. Planning preparedness and execution must be the priority of Bhutan so that she can meet the requirement of emergency effectively,” he added.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu