Good Example Of Literature Review On Humanitarian Logistics – Literature Review

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Humanitarian, Logistics, Disaster, Supply Chain, Supply, Management, Relief, Time Management

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/11/27

Logistics, a strictly business concept, is fast changing tracks as Humanitarian Logistics have taken the limelight. Logistics manages the flow of goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption by a customer or a corporation. Transportation has an important influence on Logistics as it determines the efficiency of moving products. The increasing globalization of business activity requires that raw materials and finished goods are moved across several borders. This requires a well laid out Logistics plan and the most important impact comes down to the Transportation sector (Tseng, Taylor, & Yue, 2005).
The not-for-profit sector, however, requires goods (supplies) delivered to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people. The humanitarian sector is now more prepared than ever to alleviate human sufferings and save human lives as the rate of disasters and catastrophes has skyrocketed, thus making Humanitarian logistics an important area of study (Thomas & Kopczak, 2005). Following is an evaluation of fast generating literature in this field along with basic definitions and rationales for the increasing rate of development in Humanitarian logistics.

Increasing Pressure on the Humanitarian Sector

As Thomas & Kopczak (2005) notice, both natural and man-made disasters are expected to increase both in frequency and severity, owing to rapid urbanizations, environmental degradation, and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Since the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the heavy loss of human lives that followed made huge news on the media, public acknowledgement of the importance of logistics in disaster relief was established.
Although at the time the Tsunami struck local, national, and international disaster relief systems were activated, the loss of lives and property was considerable and given the volunteer effort made and relief money collected, a far better response could be expected. This brought into question the effectiveness of disaster management systems which appear to be well-planned but do not help as expected in managing humanitarian crises. Darcy & Hoffman (2003) in the Humanitarian Policy Group Report identified three major problems in the humanitarian policies. Firstly, financing is a limitation and amounts allocated to different heads do not reflect comparative levels of need. Secondly, severity of situations and appropriate response is still not standardized. International scales of grading severity of a disaster and the set of responses at each level need to be set, in order to define a single standardized method of communicating which disaster requires which type of response. Finally, donors still need to be given an authentic reason to believe that their money is being put to effective disaster management. Again a standardized needs assessment criterion should be established to gain donor confidence.
The 2004 Tsunami was, therefore, a revelation that donations made and goods bought were more than sufficient, but organizing and prioritizing these resources was a bigger problem. Volunteers who could sort and track the goods, manage shipment, and ensure efficient and cost-effective flow and storage of goods were more valuable than the goods themselves. This is where the still infant concept of Humanitarian Logistics came into being. Since then several disasters have captured the attention of the media and each has left the Humanitarian Logistics cycle a little wiser. Humanitarian emergencies have now been defines as situations in which a minimum of 300,000 people can die if no international assistance is provided (Thomas & Kopczak, 2005).
It was not until later that disaster management turned out to be not the only realm served by Humanitarian Logistics. Several areas that businesses do not serve due to the huge costs involved cannot go unnoticed. Complicated logistics solutions are developed to provide operations in challenging areas and these too fall under the category of Humanitarian Logistics (Mbohwa, 2010).
According to Van Wassenhove (2006) a ‘‘disruption that physically affects a system as a whole and threatens its priorities and goals’’ is termed a disaster and Logistics and supply chain management are both crucial to initiate an appropriate response to a disaster.
In the case of disaster management, several stages make up the cycle. Distribution of Humanitarian aid is usually the most important task once the disaster has struck. Therefore, Humanitarian Logistics are a part of the Response stage of the Disaster Management Cycle. Several models have been developed to define the minimum cost and minimum travel time routes in the case of a disaster. Such models use linear programming and algorithms that have been developed with special attention to factors such as response time, costs, security and reliability of the chosen routes, and comparisons of possible routes (Ortuno, 2013).
Figure 01: The Disaster Management Cycle

Source: Ortuno, 2013.

However, the role of Humanitarian Logistics does not end at the response stage. Rehabilitation and Recovery are also facilitated by the provision of appropriate materials to the society through Humanitarian Logistics. The management of donated money to set the affected economy back on the path of social and economic development, then becomes an important role of Humanitarian Logistics (Schwarz & Kessler, 2010).
The Humanitarian environment has developed its share of complexities in the form of conflicts, security issues, and local and international politics.

Humanitarian Logistics – Supply Chain Management

Humanitarian Logistics have been defined as the process of planning, implementing, and controlling the efficient and cost-effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption for the purpose of meeting the end beneficiary’s requirements and alleviating the suffering of vulnerable people, by the Humanitarian Logistics Conference, 2004 (Thomas & Kopczak, 2005). Logistics can make the difference between a failed or successful disaster relief operation. Given that procurement and transportation fall under logistics, it also becomes the most expensive part of a relief effort (Van Wassenhove, 2006). According to Tseng, Taylor, & Yue (2005), logistics being the most costly have one-third of the costs contributed by transport. Consequently, the transport system affects the efficiency of logistics immensely. By joining the separate activities in a relief cycle, transport becomes a key element of logistics, determining the success of the operation. Similarly, Thomas & Kopczak (2005) have also identified that other than being the most expensive stage of disaster relief, it is also the most crucial as effectiveness and speed of response are important for any disaster relief program. Finally, logistics data has been identified as an important source of post-evaluative information and reflects on the performance of each stage of the supply chain.
Like the commercial supply chains, the aim of a Humanitarian supply chain is to get the right supplies in the right quantities, at the right place in the right time – from the donors to the consumers. Figure 02 is a depiction of a Humanitarian supply chain, detailing the various phases involved.
Figure 02: A Humanitarian Supply Chain

Source: Nagurney, 2012.

Like any commercial supply chain the process involves trucking to port, documentation, shipping, trucking to destination, sorting and finally, delivery to end-user. However, the very nature of the Humanitarian sector results in basic differences between the commercial / business supply chain and a Humanitarian Supply Chain. As Cozzolino (2012) highlights like a commercial supply chain, the two basic principles of supply chain management could also be applied to Humanitarian supply chains – agility and leanness. Agility focuses on minimizing lead times through local warehousing and local logisticians at work, as in a disaster more time saved means more lives saved. Leanness, on the other hand, is related to increasing efficiency thus saving costs. Doing more with less means costs saved and more lives saved. However, agility and leanness may not be applicable together and situational factors may affect which gets chosen. Agility becomes more important in the face of unpredictable demand and short lead times, whereas, leanness can be adopted when more can be done with less in the face of stable demand. Therefore, an important decision for relief operations is to determine the right mix of agility and leanness when responding to a disaster.
Beresford & Pettit (2005) conducted an analysis which became part of Kovacs & Spens (2012) book. The analysis compared the two earthquakes of Wenchuan (2008) and Haiti (2010). Given the location of the two areas Haiti was at an advantage of receiving and managing aid immediately. However, disaster response proved to be much better in Wenchuan given contingency planning, rapid deployment of resources, and engagement of several supply routes simultaneously. In the case of Haiti, greater dependence was on external aid and since the port was destructed, the entire relief pressure was accumulated on the airport. These cases show how proper planning and management can result in speedy response while keeping a check on costs – thus emphasizing the importance of the ‘last mile’ in relief operations. The final delivery of resources to the affected area is where the function of Humanitarian logistics becomes important.
Chandraprakaikul (2010) notices that donors and government are the primary stakeholders and have a great say in how the funds provided should be used. Most impose that the funds should be used in providing food, shelter and materials that can be directly consumed by those affected. This leaves no funds for the indirect but equally important heads of human resource training, disaster preparedness, and information systems. Further challenges posed by the Humanitarian supply chain as opposed to the commercial supply chain have been summarized by Ortuno et al. (2013) under the following heads:

Unpredictable demand from random events presenting challenges in terms of timing, type, location, and size

Zero lead time between the occurrence of the demand and the need for it and a variety of products and services are demanded – lead time is dependent on the efficiency of the supply chain

Resources – technology, funding, staff, and supplies – are limited

Information is often unreliable or incomplete – decision making becomes a challenge
Presence of multiple decision-makers at each stage results in confused chains of command
A cross-sector partnership among two major stakeholders – humanitarian organizations and businesses (companies) – can go a long way in improving both agility and leanness of the Humanitarian supply chain. The partnership helps relief efforts as better communication and availability of required goods speeds the process, whereas the efficiency and leanness of the management techniques used by for-profit businesses helps to save costs of the entire operation. Such a relationship works on the basis of mutual benefit as Humanitarian organizations gain quicker access to required resources while also learning better management practices from businesses; whereas, businesses are able to do their share for the society and establish their efforts under the head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (Cozzolino, 2012).
The measurement, evaluation, and improvement of Humanitarian supply chain operations can be achieved through value chain analysis. Making sure that each stage of the supply chain is adding value can help eliminated excess steps from the supply chain, thus, saving both costs and time. Kovacs & Spens (2012) highlight in their book a study by Taylor (2012) about the African disaster management supply chains and noticed that foreign aid skyrocketed the costs and also introduced inefficiencies into the Humanitarian supply chain. It was found that local stockpiling and local manufacturing would not only result in benefits such as reduced costs, faster response, and lesser risk of disruption, but also help in creating employment and economic growth for the African states.
Balcik & Beamon (2008) have highlighted another area of concern – performance measurement in a Humanitarian supply chain. They have rightly claimed that services offered are intangible, outcomes are unknown, shortest time to respond is claimed, and a variety of stakeholder interests need to be met. With these highly immeasurable performance metrics, controlling and improving the Humanitarian supply chain continues to be a challenge. In their paper Balcik & Beamon (2008) have proposed models of evaluation of Humanitarian supply chains. These models take into account as many factors as possible – maximum location coverage, multiple item types, facility location, budgetary and capacity constraints, and inventory decisions. Therefore, even with a dedicated supply chain, saving lives and helping beneficiaries may not be all that easy.
Tomasini & Van Wassenhove (2009) also succinctly provide that Humanitarian Supply Chains ought to deliver with limited resources, ambiguous objectives, high uncertainty, urgency, and in a politicized environment. Such relief efforts result in cross-learning opportunities for Humanitarian organizations, while offering an opportunity to share knowledge between the private and the Humanitarian sector. The move from just Humanitarian logistics to Humanitarian supply chain management has helped to pay attention to several factors previously ignored – cost effectiveness, speed, information and skills management.
Other than the factors arising from the very nature of unpredictable disaster management, many recent developments in politics, corruption, and media coverage have affected the amount of care and material that reaches the aid recipients.

Challenges to Humanitarian Logistics

In the context of operations in disaster struck areas, several challenges are being faced by Humanitarian logistics. Each affects the authenticity of the operation and the scope for further effort in disaster relief.

Inappropriate Budget Allocations in a Relief Operation

Making relief effective over the long-term requires investments in systems such as communications, human resources training, technology, and logistics. However, donors are more inclined to dictating that the funds donated are used to achieve more direct short-term goals such as purchase and provision of food, water, shelter, and sanitation. Apart from the funds, several decisions such as those regarding needs assessment, supplies procurement, and transport to be used are made by the relief management team and logisticians are often not a part of such a team. This results in unforeseen delays and supply bottlenecks which are not a part of the relief effort (Chandraprakaikul, 2010).

Limited Technology at the Disposal of the Relief Team

Commercial supply chain management has been revolutionized by the introduction of technology. Appropriate software to track and trace packages, inventory management software, supplier performance analytics, and supplier database management are basic introductions that have helped supply chain management to become a source of competitive advantage. However, Humanitarian Logistics is still mainly dependent on manual record keeping and this primitive nature of its operations is still a major drawback in the functioning of this supply chain.
For relief teams to understand the importance of appropriate technological tools and the impact these could have on shortening delivery times and helping better coordination between the stages of the supply chain, awareness of the technological tools available is important (Thomas & Kopczak, 2005).

Lack of Collaboration

Humanitarian supply chains often involve several logisticians working in the sane areas; therefore in the case of a disaster sharing of resources and responsibilities can help in saving time and more lives. However, sadly enough, these logistics companies are competing with each other for donor funds, thus resulting in inefficiencies in the system based on doubling of efforts on the same task while other functions of the supply chain remain unattended. Thomas & Kopczak (2005) see that greater collaboration amongst supply chain operators can help in devising better solutions with lesser resources, when disaster strikes.

Security Issues in Disaster-Stricken Areas

Disaster does not usually strike in the most tamed and desirable locations and the resource that is the most deficient in such situations is the Human Resource. Lautze et al. (2004) point out the increasing difficulty of moving volunteers and staff to the location and providing them with the appropriate security and shelter. Understandably, most of the disasters strike the developing countries and a lot of aid reaches there along with human resources. Murders of relief personnel have become rife and have discouraged volunteers from going abroad. In the struggle for power and authority, terrorism against local and international relief workers has become too common in these areas. The cost of providing protection to the relief staff has now become a major addition to the already expensive Humanitarian Logistics function.

Inefficient Use of Knowledge

Oloruntoba (2010) has suggested that a major improvement in the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of Humanitarian Logistics can result from providing training to those who need to be on the field. Therefore, educating those who need to know is important. Similarly, improving the next plan by providing feedback to planning and response authorities can help information driven from previous experiences to improve the following attempts.
On a more professionally aligned basis, Tatham & Spens (2011) propose a model of knowledge management to ensure that the right decisions are made when facing a panic situation with hands-on access to information regarding availability of resources and shortest possible route of the resources to the site of disaster. When such important data is captured, stored, and analyzed, the owners of the data can be guaranteed to take good decisions as opposed to poor, uninformed decisions.

The Future of Humanitarian Logistics

As revealed by the literature reviewed here, Humanitarian Logistics is still in quite an underdeveloped state. Given that its true essence was discovered in just 2004, it has a long way to go before its importance reaches the level reached by commercial supply chain management. Several improvements need to make way and a barbaric market, where no collaborations exist, and each contender fights for his share, will have to dissolve.
The following improvements can prove to be a good starting point for the establishment of an indispensible disaster relief supply chain:

Develop a community of disaster relief Logisticians to share knowledge and resources, making the industry efficient

Certified professionals in the field of Humanitarian Logistics to promote professionalism and collaboration
Adoption of flexible technology solutions
Strong feedback and knowledge collection loops
Measure effectiveness with Performance metrics that rely on tangible data
(Thomas & Kopczak, 2005; Nagurney, 2012; Mbohwa, 2010)
An important development in the field of disaster relief and management is the use of mathematical Decision models and heuristics to define solutions such as shortest route to disaster site, and which Humanitarian organization is best located to provide appropriate aid. These decisions often become points of conflict amongst the many players involved in a disaster management scene. Similarly, the layout of a disaster relief center plays an important role as crowding at such a center may affect the flow of goods and medical care. Coordination amongst the aid providers and volunteers on site can play an important role in providing the best possible care, but lack of real-time information sharing between these players results in miscommunications and inefficiencies. Making use of state-of the art technology and computer modeling can help streamline information sharing and decision making at each stage of disaster management and relief provision, thus improving both speed and efficiency (Zeimpekis, Ichoua, & Minis, 2013).


Balcik, B. & Beamon, B. M. (2008). Facility location in humanitarian relief. International Journal of Logistics: Research and Applications, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 101-121.
Beresford, A. & Pettit, S. (2005). Humanitarian Aid Logistics: The Wenchuan and Haiti Earthquakes Compared. USA: Business Science Reference.
Chandraprakaikul, W. (2010). HUMANITARIAN SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT: LITERATURE REVIEW AND FUTURE RESEARCH. Available from <> [Accessed on February 18, 2015].
Cozzolino, A. (2012). Humanitarian Logistics: Cross-Sector Cooperation in Disaster Relief Management. New York: Springer.
Darcy, J. & Hoffman, C. (2003). According to need? Needs assessment and decision-making in the humanitarian sector. UK: Humanitarian Policy Group.
Kovacs, G. & Spens, K. (2012). Relief Supply Chain Management for Disasters: Humanitarian Aid and Emergency Logistics. USA: Business Science Reference.
Lautze, S., Leaning, J., Raven-Roberts, A., Kent R. & Mazurana D. (2004). Assistance, protection, and governance networks in complex emergencies. The Lancet, December 11, 364: 2134-41
Mbohwa, C. (2010). HUMANITARIAN LOGISTICS: REVIEW AND CASE STUDY OF ZIMBABWEAN EXPERIENCES. Journal of Transport and Supply Chain Management, November 2010.
Nagurney, A. (2012). Commercial vs. Humanitarian Supply Chains. Available from <> [Accessed on February 18, 2015].
Oloruntoba, R. (2010). An analysis of the Cyclone Larry emergency relief chain: Some key success factors. International Journal of Production Economics, 126: 85-101
Ortuno, M.T. et al. (2013). Decision Aid Models and Systems for Humanitarian Logistics. A Survey. Atlantis Computational Intelligence Systems Volume 7, 2013, pp 17-44.
Tatham, P. & Spens, K. (2011). TOWARDS A HUMANITARIAN LOGISTICS KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM. Journal “Disaster Prevention and Management”, 2011.
Taylor, D. (2012). The Application of Value Chain Analysis for the Evaluation of Alternative Supply Chain Strategies for the Provision of Humanitarian Aid to Africa. USA: Business Science Reference.
Thomas, A. & Kopczak, L. (2005). From Logistics to Supply Chain Management: The Path Forward in the Humanitarian Sector. Fritz Institute.
Tomasini, R. & Van Wassenhove, L.N. (2009). Humanitarian Logistics. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Tseng, Y., Taylor, M., & Yue, W. (2005). The Role of Transportation in Logistics Chain. Proceedings of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 5, pp. 1657 - 1672, 2005.
Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2006). Blackett memorial lecture. Humanitarian aid logistics: Supply chain management in high gear. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 57(5), 475–489.
Zeimpekis, V., Ichoua, S., & Minis, I. (2013). Humanitarian and Relief Logistics. New York: Springer.

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