Delivering Relief Aid at a Moment’s Notice
Disaster can strike at any moment, and when it does it’s important to be prepared. Behind the scenes of the Aid & Relief sector, work is continuously underway to make sure when a crisis occurs, supplies and teams are ready.
The primary objectives of humanitarian aid are to save lives, alleviate suffering, and to provide materials and assistance to people in need. To do this effectively, means that organizations need to dedicate teams of people to specifically prepare for disasters around the globe. Afterall, moving a huge number of critical supplies from place to place is a full-time endeavor.
To learn more about the vital and important Aid & Relief sector, we spoke with Mr. Stuart Smith, Director Development & Director Humanitarian, Volga-Dnepr Group. His years of experience in international emergency aid response, organizing cargo airlifts, and last-mile humanitarian aid is helping Volga-Dnepr to becoming one of the premier air carriers in this sector.
Handling it All
The Aid & Relief segment is quite large and the number of products that need to be shipped to any given location can vary greatly. To organize this sector, sub-verticals are often in place for the products that are manufactured and strategically stored in regional warehouses in known disaster areas. The typical range of goods can be broken down into segments such as water and sanitation equipment, food, medical items, shelter, communications, and logistics & mobility.
Mr. Smith said, “Generally speaking, traditional relief cargoes tend to be consumables such as food, medicines, hygiene and sanitary kits or shelter/protection based, especially in the result of natural disasters. This means such items tend to not be oversized, however of course there are specialist items such as field hospitals, vehicles, power-generation which do then present a different type of air cargo challenge. Within Volga-Dnepr Group, we can provide both the oversized airlift and the more regular airlift solutions since our fleet is wide and self-sufficient to guarantee fast loading procedures.”
Speaking further about moving larger products and equipment like mobile hospitals Mr. Smith explained, “Volga-Dnepr has a unique fleet of An-124-100 and Il-76-TD-90VD aircraft which are specialist by virtue of the fact that they are ramp-loading and have onboard cranes. This means we can transport all kinds of field hospitals, from those hospitals which are housed in 40ft and 20ft sea-containers to those which are packed-up and sent more as modules/tents.”
While there are a number of different sizes and shapes of cargo, the general way these shipments are handled is relatively similar. Carriers will often receive cargo from the airport cargo handling agent and work with the customer to prepare the shipment for carriage.
Mr. Smith said, “The cargo is often prepared for loading with our airport ground handling agent and our experienced loadmasters supervise the loading of the cargo safely into our aircraft. At the airport of destination, the process is repeated in reverse, however we are also experienced in flying our aircraft into less developed airports where there is not the same infrastructure and sometimes in disaster response situations, the consignee of the cargo will even bring their truck directly to the aircraft inside the airport to receive the cargo from us. We are flexible and that is always going to be a big strength when shipping good for humanitarian aid.”
Speed is Critical
Above all other factors, when it comes to this type of emergency aid speed is of the utmost importance. With lives on the line, every second counts. “Speed of response is a critical factor in responding to disaster situations and crises, and we pride ourselves in thinking and reacting quickly and creatively,” said Mr. Smith. “Notice is often very short in responding to airlift needs in this sector and can be as short as 24 hours! Recently, our US office was able to organize an airlift for FEMA within 24hours in anticipation of the damage from Typhoon Mangkhut in Guam.”
Being vigilant and prepared for disasters to strike allows for adequate and quick responses. For when the call comes, the clock starts ticking. Having supplies already stockpiled in place ahead of time is essential for the speed and success of an operation. As Mr. Smith said, “We spend time to understand where the global warehouse stockpiles are managed, and our regional aircraft operating bases correspond with how the forward-warehouse stocks are managed for NGOs and UN agencies. We invest time into looking at how the synergies of our networks can integrate into a coordinated and effective air cargo disaster response. We research and understand the disaster-prone areas in the world and where natural disasters are likely to occur and we look to engage in workshops and seminars with our stakeholders as to the role of air cargo in the response.”
Needs on the Ground
Even the best preparation can meet challenges when it comes to delivering to disaster-stricken areas. While it’s not always the case, flying into these areas can be testing as damage to airports and runways means improvisation sometimes needs to be done. Even once the cargo is on the ground, distributing these vital goods to the places they are needed most can also be a demanding test, but is one that Mr. Smith says Volga-Dnepr is adept at.
“We are an airline group, so we typically offer our solutions from airport to airport. However, our 28 years of operating urgent charter flights has enabled us to build capability to offer additional services such as assistance with the pre-carriage / delivery to airport / airport handling etc. We have much experience operating and delivering to disaster-stricken areas with smaller, less developed airports because of the unique self-handling capabilities of our Il-76 and An-124 aircraft and the ability to land in smaller airports where there is not the usual handling equipment.”
“However, safety is of course a key priority and we must ensure that we receive adequate and legitimate information surrounding runway strength, length, and approach paths. Given that we operate a very special fleet of Antonov and Ilyushin aircraft types that do not need sophisticated ground equipment, the ground handling requirements are not as specific as other aircraft types. Usually provided that there is some manpower, forklifts and available trucks/vehicles to drive the cargo away from the airport we can help manage an operation even into the most remote locations.”
While speaking with Mr. Smith, it became apparent that these types of shipments are far from a solo effort. The collaboration of a number of groups and organizations is needed to truly make these shipments a success.
Mr. Smith said, “Governments are often the first to respond to disasters, whether it is Search + Rescue units (SAR teams), or the international development departments of major government donors. We work on behalf of government departments, UN agencies, Red Cross & Red Crescent Society as well as the wider NGO community. There is also a significant private sector contribution from tent manufacturers to the medicines manufacturers and professional disaster response firms as well.”
He continued, “This is an area where our Group really wants to lead amongst our peers in the air cargo community. Airport access and logistics is of course a key part of a coordinated response and the role of the private sector can be very helpful in advising cluster agencies, NGOs and stakeholders in the conditions and information that they will require to prioritize how to send aid. Volga-Dnepr looks to get increasingly involved with other stakeholders in disaster response such as UNOCHA and the airports access and preparedness work which is done by UNOCHA and UNDP along with industry partners to ensure that we are doing everything possible with the end goal of delivering goods where they’re needed quickly to save lives.”