Moving humanitarian transport cooperation up a gear

Publicado: 4 noviembre 2004 0:00 CET

Roy Probert in Geneva

The humanitarian community spends in excess of US$800 million a year on its road transport fleet, a sum that could be reduced if aid agencies worked more closely and shared expertise in this field, with vulnerable communities reaping the benefit.

This was one of the central messages delivered at the second Fleet Forum, held in Amsterdam on 28 and 29 October.

The forum was founded in 2003 by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), World Vision International and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with the aim of bringing together technical experts and aid agency managers to discuss common challenges, share information and develop or improve humanitarian transport standards.

The forum was opened by the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Agnes van Ardenne, who told the 60 participants from 32 humanitarian organizations, "if you join forces to deal with matters like maintenance, spare parts and road safety, you will boost efficiency and quality even more."

Rob McConnell, head of field logistics at the International Federation, points out that vehicles represent a large slice of an aid organisation’s assets and operational costs: “Fleet management in the humanitarian community faces many challenges and often lacks professionalism and recognition when compared with the commercial sector; sometimes resulting in the inefficient use of resources and unnecessarily high expenditure.”

“The Fleet Forum seeks to put in place collaborative mechanisms which obviate the need to reinvent the wheel,” he explains.

Recent collaboration in the transport field includes the refugee crisis in eastern Chad, where Red Cross six-wheel-drive trucks have been delivering WFP food aid and transferring refugees to camps.

Since the last Fleet Forum, the partner organisations have conducted joint research on Fleet Management Systems and the establishment of generic vehicle specifications to allow for joint purchasing synergies.

Through its partnership with the WFP, the Dutch mail company TPG sponsored the Amsterdam event, which had as its theme ‘Transport for Development’. Among the topics covered during the two-day meeting were road safety, training, fleet management systems and setting of standards.

It is intended that the forum, whose first gathering was held last year in Geneva, will eventually serve as an important link to the commercial sector, a potential source of funding, vehicles and expertise.

Road circumstances are usually very tough in the locations where humanitarian organisations are operating, resulting in short life cycles for vehicles, equipment and accessories, as well as spare parts and especially, tyres.

Together, the organisations represented at the first Fleet Forum in 2003 operate a fleet of over 45,000 vehicles, representing an asset value of over US$ 800 million, which constitutes their second biggest operational cost, after expenditure on staff.

As well as its annual meeting, the Fleet Forum acts as the aid community’s platform for sharing road transport information and best practice. The Fleet Forum hosts a website