Inside the warehouses getting aid across Syria

Published: 14 October 2014 19:24 CET

By Viviane Tou'meh and Penny Sims in Syria

In the Syrian coastal town of Tartous sit two huge warehouses. These are the main entry point for all Red Cross Red Crescent goods coming into Syria, and for some other agencies as well. The operation began just 18 months ago with one smaller warehouse, and has grown to two sites covering 10,000 sq metres, plus 43 staff including forklift drivers, storekeepers, labourers, guards, admin and finance workers.

The operation is supported by the German Red Cross, which covers all running costs, wages, and equipment such as forklift trucks. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supports with training and capacity building for staff and volunteers, and logistic tools.

Hicham Diab, IFRC logistics co-ordinator, says there are major challenges with such a sizeable operation. “We have to comply with regulations so there’s a lot of paperwork. We need the right papers in good time to complete customs clearance and handle incoming shipments. Also we have to regularly monitor transport rates with the logistics companies we use for trucking. Fuel and transport rates fluctuate, so we keep an eye on this to get the best value for money,” he said.

“The hub operated in coordination with Syrian Arab Red Crescent headquarters for shipments so know we have the papers, the staff are ready to unload, there’s space for the goods, and then we update the inventory and feed that into plans for future distributions. Each area of the warehouses is recorded in our database so we know exactly where the aid is stored, where it’s from, and can keep track of any perishable goods.

“We record every delivery – we photograph the state of the container on arrival, we randomly test 2 per cent of each shipment received in the warehouse to check weight and volume, quality, or if the items have been damaged in transit. Any problems are reported back and we rectify with suppliers directly or through donors. We work hard to make the operation accountable and streamlined.

“Getting all the paperwork together on time is just one part of getting the aid to the right place, to the right people, at the right time.

“For the last two weeks we have been training the staff in LOGIC, an inventory control database for logistics that helps keep close tabs on movement of aid. Using systems like this will support the operation here and means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, it enhances the whole aid pipeline for incoming aid to the warehouse hubs in Tartous and then dispatching it for distribution to Red Crescent branches.”

As one huge container pulls in to unload, warehouse manager Basem Zghaibeh talks through the shipments coming in and out the warehouse:

“Today we have seven containers coming in, each around 40 foot long. We can unload a container like this one in about 25 minutes. This one has about 855 food parcels, and we expect 7,500 in total today. This container took about two days to reach us from Turkey.”

The container is full of food parcels from the German Red Cross. Each pallet of 100 parcels is carefully removed by forklift, and two parcels on every pallet are removed for spot checks. The results of these are fed back to the donor and the supplier to ensure the quality of the aid parcel. While it’s important to get aid to people quickly, it’s not acceptable to deliver food that may be rotten or substandard. Ensuring a standard is upheld means constant checks but ultimately prevents problems further down the supply chain when the food reaches people.

An hour later two SARC trucks pull up to the warehouse. Each are loaded with 500 food parcels and hygiene kits, enough aid for 1,000 families. Basem explains “This is for a delivery happening today. In just 2 or 3 hours this aid will be in Homs.”