Aid relief in Africa faces a complex set of challenges; getting aid to the continent is one thing, moving it across various countries and the final 'last-mile' journeys can be incredibly difficult.

"The challenges are amplified by natural disasters, conflicts, bureaucracy and often problematic transportation infrastructure," according to a whitepaper by Danish carrier Maersk titled Delivering Relief: When it's Needed, Where it's Needed.

The supply chain is thus a vital cog of all humanitarian responses, not least because over 70 percent of spending relates to it and cost-effective logistics is indispensable, the study said.

As many as 274 million people are likely to need help and the requirement is likely to be $41 billion, according to the latest report by Global Humanitarian Overview 2022 published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"This number is a significant increase from 235 million people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades. The United Nations and partner organisations aim to assist 183 million people most in need across 63 countries."

Nearly 26 million people in Ethiopia, for example, need aid out of which the plan is to target over 22 million people - fund requirement $2.8 billion.

Thanks to generous donors, the humanitarian system delivered food, medicines, health care and other essential assistance to 107 million people in 2021, according to Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations.

Africa today

Africa is the world's second largest, and second most populous continent in the world with an area covering 30.37 million km², across 54 countries that are home to almost 1.4 billion people.

"With 20 of its countries currently considered fragile or conflict-affected, together with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty, displacement and disease, aid and development are still critical.

"Displacement due to conflicts and natural disasters remains the main crisis of the continent with more than 8 million new displacements in 2020. The World Bank estimates that due to factors like climate change, deforestation and a reduction in biodiversity, around 70-130 million more people will be driven into poverty by 2030."

In Sub-Saharan Africa particularly, climate change is a major threat, causing droughts, cyclones, coastal erosion as well as heavy rainfall, often triggering malaria epidemics. "The logistical challenges to combat these issues are many and varied. Solutions are needed to ensure safe and timely aid deliveries across borders, perilous environments, military zones, hard-to-reach rural areas and often across great distances, all while cutting transportation costs."

Private sector investment is one part of the solution towards recovery and resilience, according to the analysis. "The humanitarian community is not always positioned to develop and build the necessary logistics infrastructure. However, they have the local knowledge and in-country expertise, so are working with the integration of domestic private investment and external financial markets. This leaves the private sector free to expand said infrastructure whilst the humanitarian community can focus on procurement for the ultimate beneficiaries."

Sub-Saharan Africa is the greatest beneficiary of aid with the amount gradually rising in recent years. "The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to Africa has increased more than five-fold over the past two decades with FY2019 appropriations totalling roughly $7.1 billion. Africa also remained the largest recipient of U.K. region-specific bilateral ODA in 2019, accounting for 50.6 percent."

Carl Lorenz, Eastern Africa Managing Director, Maersk.

"Over the years, there have been several conflicts and epidemics across West Africa which have triggered a massive humanitarian response," says Michel Konan Koffi, Area Managing Director – Southern West Africa, Maersk. "Indeed, the region has been a theatre of vast displacements of people and sanitary crises which represent serious challenges for its developing economies."

With the price for climate-related humanitarian response estimated to reach $20 billion annually by 2030, the need for effective cost management is vital.

"Africa has been at the heart of Maersk's international development efforts for more than three decades," says Carl Lorenz, Eastern Africa Managing Director, Maersk. "Throughout this time, we've continuously built and expanded our capabilities in line with our partners' needs to move cargo efficiently and effectively from anywhere in the world to anywhere in Africa."

Major challenges
Africa faces the greatest trade costs of any region in the world, according to an analysis by the African Development Bank. Slow and inefficient transportation, including defective roads and numerous internal check points, have created substantial man-made obstacles to trade.

"Moreover, the quality of African infrastructure changes strikingly across the continent's country groups. This is mainly down to the widely differing environments. Middle-income countries (South Africa), those that are resource-rich with economies dependent on petroleum or mineral revenues (Nigeria), and unstable states recovering from conflict (DRC), are all vulnerable to different challenges faced by varying degrees of investment and maintenance of their road and rail infrastructure," according to the whitepaper.

For supply chains to function successfully in Africa, borders need to be far more efficient as bureaucracy often causes long delays at frontiers with countless regulations that differ from country to country. "Many African ports suffer from massive congestion and the absence of trucking capacity. Poor infrastructure leads to long delays and high costs to the customer. This is just one of a great many pain points for aid supply chains."

"Being on the front lines, when an emergency or disaster occurs, the logistics infrastructure is usually impacted," says Abiola Abodel, Western & Central Africa Manager for International Development Cargo, Maersk. "The most important thing is to be available, timeously communicating changes, and adapting to all the challenges within the logistics process, whether this requires changing transport modes for delivery, coordinating with customs officials, or negotiating storage space."

The whitepaper also presented case studies on how to ensure flow of aid to the African continent. Here's an example:

Requirement: Relief goods, including food and equipment, to be delivered to conflict zones in countries such as Mali, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia safely and on time.

Challenge: Access to locations was through neighbouring countries with stringent border controls due to conflict or tension, and passage of goods required extensive documentation and approval from local authorities. "The roads themselves also presented challenges, and such operations often involve risk to life and property, with the safe passage of personnel and cargo being paramount."

Result: The Maersk team successfully delivered over 2,500 TEUs annually to the beneficiaries. The team's local expertise and presence to these high-risk locations were major enablers in the success of the operation.

"When it comes to special aid and relief operations, many challenges can arise that are out of our control and that can easily impede our customers' ability to deliver time-sensitive aid to those who need it the most," says Renato Silva, Head of AFR Transformation & Customer Outcome, Maersk. "It is imperative that we not only plan every detail of our customers' supply chain in advance but that we leverage our local knowledge, land and ocean network, and teamwork to be agile; making quick necessary decisions to overcome unforeseen challenges to minimise impact on our customers and their beneficiaries."

Providing urgent aid and relief fast and efficiently is now being balanced with agencies working to also provide long-term solutions to improve the lives of those in need for today and for the future, the whitepaper said.

Countries and international organisations are working hard to help develop stable relief efforts and deliver long-term results, and local agencies are taking on a bigger role of both planning and delivering aid and relief to where it's needed.

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