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The UN turns to Québec researchers

In the face of a natural disaster, epidemic or armed conflict, aid must be delivered rapidly to the affected areas. As part of their emergency preparedness and response strategy, UN partners including humanitarian organizations such as CARE and OXFAM depend on six large depots where they can stockpile relief items and equipment ranging from IT equipment and mosquito netting to temporary shelters and medical kits.

Would a secondary depot in East Africa help to reduce costs without affecting the level of service?

The United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) is a UN network of strategic depots around the world, in locations that include the United Arab Emirates, Ghana and Italy. However, there was no depot in East Africa, a region that is regularly impacted by crises requiring relief aid, particularly in countries such as Sudan and Somalia. Transporting emergency supplies by air is a costly endeavour. Would a secondary depot in East Africa help to reduce costs without affecting the level of service?

The UNHRD turned to Marie-Ève Rancourt and Julie Paquette, both professors at HEC Montréal and researchers at the Interuniversity Research Centre on Enterprise Networks, Logistics and Transportation (CIRRELT), to answer this question, with the valuable assistance of then Master’s student Émilie Dufour.

In 2014 and 2015, the three researchers analyzed the potential benefits of setting up a regional distribution centre in Kampala, Uganda. Would such an infrastructure really save money? Which countries would be able to be reached within a reasonable timeframe? Finding answers to these questions was no easy task, with little data to go on, an infrastructure that did not yet exist, and the unknown nature of the crisis situations to which the centre would need to respond…

To overcome these obstacles, the team developed a mathematical model, using the simulation to evaluate the logistics costs of a potential network under a range of scenarios. Their findings indicated that a depot in Uganda would reduce costs by an average of 21%. The UNHRD decided to go ahead with the project, and began setting up a depot near Kampala.