Earthquakes in Nepal, Ebola in Africa, war in Syria, famine in the Sahara: Medecins Sans Frontieres and its aid workers are active everywhere on the front lines. But in order for them to save lives, perfect logistics is a must. A look behind the scene.
Ceiling-high shelves fill a 13,000-square-meter warehouse, stocked with products that save lives around the world. The hall is the epicenter of the newly built logistics center belonging to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, with good transportation access near Brussels, the Belgian capital. 98 people work here. Together with other centers in Bordeaux and Dubai, as well as a number of local warehouses around the world, the facility is the logistical backbone of a supply chain for an organization that is active wherever medical help is urgently needed. The center is where crucial supplies for missions are sent on their way. Logistics is a high priority. In fact, it is the third pillar of MSF, following human resources, or the medical and medical support personal in disaster zones and within in the organization. Fundraising is the other pillar, as 89 percent of MSF's financing comes from private donations.Logistics is a crucial success factor, even if this aspect is sometimes not apparent in the astonishing photos of missions in crisis zones. Patricia Low, a staff member of the Swiss section, sums it up like this:
Before we can help, our staff must be able to get to the area in the first place. And without the right equipment, they cannot do much!
It is no wonder that for MSF the logistics staffis just as important as medical personnel.
Logistics personnel are the first aid workers on site
Sometimes even the most rudimentary infrastructure is lacking, whether because it was destroyed by the natural disaster or ongoing war or sometimes because it never existed in the first place. Access to aid supplies, such as medications, injections, bandages and clean water and electricity, can be just as bad. Low says:
That's why every MSF team also includes logistics personnel, who along with the doctors, are the first aid workers on site.
But that is not the only reason why MSF transport and storage is a very special challenge. Jean Pletinckx, in charge of the Brussels center, explains:
Thirty percent of our missions are foreseeable, 70 percent are not.
After all, very few earthquakes, floods, cyclones and epidemics can be planned for, and it is just as difficult to react quickly to such events.