Unwelcome aid clogs emergency supply chains

9 February 2010

9 February 2010 | Rebecca Ellinor

Unsolicited donations are the “worst thing in the world”, according to a buyer working on disaster relief for earthquake-hit Haiti.

The misplaced generosity of companies, governments and organisations that send unsolicited contributions of medicines, food, toys and more to countries hit by hurricanes and earthquakes cause a major headache to supply chain staff.

“Imagine the supply chain of a business where a third of the stuff you’ve got coming in you didn’t even know was coming. How are you supposed to cope?” said Julian Neale, procurement and logistics specialist at the Department for International Development's Conflict, Humanitarian & Security Operations Team. “They block pipelines and you have issues of appropriateness and quality.” 

They can also prompt riots, for instance if one recipient is perceived by others to have received something better, warned Richard North, head of logistics, at the British Red Cross. “A plane containing toys might arrive when you were expecting one to land with kit to set up a much-needed hospital,” he added.

Jean-Cedric Meeus, logistics specialist and emergency co-ordinator in Unicef’s supply division, said it can also cause problems if professional buyers are competing for available suppliers to source urgently wanted equipment, and can generate waste.

“The willingness and kindness is there but it’s not helpful,” said Meeus. “It may result in a surplus of a commodity that will create waste or a black market.”

The best way to help, they said, was to donate money to the Disaster Emergency Committee which will ensure it goes where it’s needed.

* For more on the challenges of procuring for Haiti, see the next issue of Supply Management, out 18 February

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