Suppliers that support humanitarian efforts

AidEx Brussels Belgium AfricaAidEx takes place in Brussels on 24-25 October 2012. (Image source: AidEx)How prioritising local suppliers and ‘pre-positioning’ can save lives and boost the African economy

Over six decades, the humanitarian aid model has followed a familiar pattern. A crisis would occur. The international community would arrive, often bringing everything they needed with them - including tents, food, water and medicine.

The emphasis was on responding to the emergency as quickly as possible. This response phase would take several weeks and often delay the reconstruction period, before rehabilitation and long-term development programmes could begin. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved tended to buy their goods in the more developed countries of South and South East Asia - China, India, Pakistan - and then ship them (or fly them) into Africa.

Whilst this model was undoubtedly well-intentioned and sometimes practical, it did not always take advantage of the role the local community could play - either as interested parties who could be active in preparing for a flood or drought, or as potential suppliers of goods in a crisis.

A new approach to supply

The humanitarian aid community is now taking note of the potential of sourcing local suppliers. For example, Advance Aid, a new NGO in Africa, operates a policy of buying emergency supplies locally. This means they are well-placed to act when disaster strikes, and also that they are injecting money and self-sufficiency into local economies. They look for African suppliers which have strong social involvement and look after their workforce, and act as intermediary between that company and NGOs.

Much of Advance Aid’s work takes place in Nairobi, Kenya, due to the large number of NGOs which have headquarters there. This strategic position also enables quick access to hotspots such as South Sudan, Somalia, and DR Congo, and the nearby Dadaab camp with its more than 400,000 inhabitants.

A successful example of Advance Aid’s work as an ‘intermediary’ is evident in the case of Nairobi-based Reltex Tarpaulins, now a valuable supplier for NGOs. The company is the only supplier of emergency plastic sheeting in Africa, so it can move faster than international suppliers to the worst affected zones.

Since opening for business in summer 2010, Reltex has doubled its capacity, running 24/7 with three shifts and employing more than 200 people. Similarly, Advance Aid’s work with Spinners & Spinners, a blanket maker from Ruiru, outside Nairobi, has boosted production and led to employment of 1,600 local workers.

In addition to the trend of sourcing local suppliers, the humanitarian aid community is investing more resources in assessing where the next crisis is likely to break.

NGOs have previously complained of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to their funding, where there is very little money around before an emergency happens and then a wave of money straight afterwards. This has often resulted in organisations and governments trying to procure the same goods from the same suppliers, pushing up prices and pushing down quality.

Anticipating the area of the next crisis or disaster helps to ‘pre-position’ or stockpile goods closer to the centre of this future emergency. This new approach saves lives by delivering vital resources into the hands of those affected in a much quicker timeframe.

 

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