Logistics challenges in conflict regions

Find out how the BLG Group applies its logistics expertise to combat hunger.

Since 2012, BLG LOGISTICS has been supporting a major international humanitarian organization. This involved our vastly experienced port experts Ferdinand Möhring and Wolf Lampe visiting the world's poorest regions several times in the last few years. On the ground, they assessed the accessibility, infrastructure, equipment and level of organization at the seaports and estimated handling and storage capacities. After every trip, they formulated recommendations for the organization designed to ultimately benefit not only the ports themselves, but above all the people in the crisis areas.

This article takes a look back at some of our special missions.

MISSION: HAITI AND HONDURAS

In August 2016, the two logistics experts were in Central America: Ferdinand Möhring spent two weeks inspecting the ports of Haiti, while Wolf Lampe provided his expertise over two weeks in Honduras. Especially Haiti, with its population of 11.4 million (as of 2020), is in crisis due to repeated severe natural disasters, political instability and poverty, and needs external help.

A functioning infrastructure is a prerequisite for the reception, storage and further distribution of relief goods on site," says BLG port expert Ferdinand Möhring.


HAITI

Roads used for transporting goods are repeatedly buried under mudslides. There are no organized waste collection or waste storage and incineration facilities, so garbage piles up on the streets of the island state. The garbage strewn everywhere blocks important roads and sometimes self-ignites due to the heat. The tense security situation on Haiti exacerbates things even more.

"Since the severe earthquake and a series of hurricanes in 2010, around 600 aid organizations have poured a lot of money into the country," explains Ferdinand Möhring.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't used well, and too little has found its way to the local population."

Together with delegates from the United Nations, Ferdinand Möhring inspected the seven most important ports of Haiti and summed up his recommendations in a final report. However, reality has shown that Nature can scupper plans at any time: Just a few weeks after his departure, the island was hit by the next severe storm: hurricane Matthew. More than 500 people lost their lives and the ports originally identified as suitable for receiving aid supplies were destroyed. The already desolate situation in the country deteriorated further. It was a devastating blow for Ferdinand Möhring.

HONDURAS

The situation in Honduras is better. In August 2016, the Central American country with a population of nine million was the destination for Wolf Lampe's tour of inspection. Together with the Head of Logistics of the organization's national office, he visited five ports. Due to its geographical location, Honduras is at risk of hurricanes as well as earthquakes. The country regularly receives various aid deliveries of rice, beans and oil. As in Haiti, these are mainly distributed in schools and enable children to eat at least one hot meal a day. The Honduras mission ended with a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

"Overall, Honduras is a long way from having a properly-functioning port structure on either of its coastlines. It would be possible with a moderate degree of organization to significantly improve the goods flow and therefore also the handling capacity," say Wolf Lampe about Honduras.


LAKE TANGANYIKA

Ferdinand Möhring also contributed his logistics expertise to a project in summer 2018: This trip took him to Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa. In Bujumbura, the former capital of Burundi directly on the shore of the lake, there are plans to revitalize the waterway in Lake Tanganyika between Zambia and Burundi. The route has existed since the beginning of the 20th century, but now it is rarely used. The reasons for this are not only the outdated ships, some of which are up to 120 years old and badly in need of repair. Additionally, the ports on the lake are not equipped to handle larger volumes of goods.

Mpulungu, Zambia's only port, could handle goods from several ships simultaneously. However, the small port has a pier only 20 meters long and the infrastructure is poor. In the port of Kigoma in Tanzania, also on Lake Tanganyika, there is even a shipyard dating from 1913, which still repairs ships and builds new vessels. But here again, the infrastructure urgently needs to be modernized and expanded.

A problem that all ports on Lake Tanganyika share is safety. There is a severe lack of equipment and protective clothing so that handling loads such as cement clinker can be a danger to life. The project aims to revitalize the waterways so that large quantities of maize can be transported from Zambia, which relies on agriculture, to the overpopulated and poverty-stricken Burundi, but also further through Rwanda and Uganda as far as South Sudan. This makes the project extremely important for the region. Against the background of climate change, the population around Lake Tanganyika will urgently need help in the future as well.

In November 2018, Ferdinand Möhring again traveled to Lake Tanganyika. This time he spent six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ports there are Kalemie and Kalundu. There is an urgent need for investment in the infrastructure and superstructure. After returning home, our colleague Ferdinand Möhring submitted a total of 25 recommendations for action. At the first conference of the World Bank on this subject, the Bank signaled its willingness to invest.

"The Eastern part of the country is a civil war region and nobody should go there without a good reason," says Möhring. "Kalemie isn't even accessible by road. Altogether, the infrastructure is catastrophic."


LAKE VICTORIA

Although the studies carried out by the BLG experts take them to many different countries, the conditions they travel in and the impressions they experience are not always easy to cope with. It is frustrating that not all of their recommendations can be implemented as quickly or as extensively as they would like. Nevertheless, Ferdinand Möhring and Wolf Lampe have succeeded with their recommendations in regularly triggering ideas for change which can lay the foundations for positive developments.

One example is in Eastern Africa. The continent's largest lake, Lake Victoria, lies on the borders of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It has the potential to be a vital link between Eastern and Central Africa. Already, hundreds of tons of food products are transported daily between Tanzania and Tororo in Eastern Uganda – however by truck. They take the Western route around the lake. That costs not just a lot of money, but also time. The direct route across Lake Victoria would be much easier and more efficient. There is even a working railway link between Mwanza in Tanzania and Kampala in Uganda, which opened a year ago. However, it is barely used.

In his capacity as a port expert, Ferdinand Möhring traveled to the region in February 2019 to gain a picture of the situation on the ground. In particular, he examined the route from the port of Dar-es-Salaam through Tanzania to Uganda, where a large part of the aid is needed. His observations showed that much more effective distribution of food aid could be achieved via the Ugandan port of Jinja as a transit hub between Tanzania and Tororo in Uganda. However, there is a four-kilometer gap of track between the port and Jinja railway station.

What sounds like an easily implemented construction project is anything but. Uganda and Tanzania, the countries affected, are reluctant to invest. They fear that when sometime in the future no more aid is sent via this route, there may not be any commercial customers to take over. The track would become useless. Therefore the goal now is not only to reactivate the route, but also to attract new customers to use it. Furthermore, funds have already been invested in preparing 40 rail cars for aid transport on this route.

Based on Ferdinand Möhring's recommendations, targeted investment can be made so that more goods can be transported across Lake Victoria in the future.


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