Delivering the Goods: Improving the Distribution of Aid to Better Serve Refugees

January 23, 2018 By USGLC Guest Contributor

The global refugee crisis is one of the world’s most pressing and complicated humanitarian challenges. With millions of people displaced around the world and over 655,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone, the scope and scale of the crisis is daunting.

Fortunately, the United States, USAID, the UN, and other Governments and organizations are stepping in to provide life-saving supplies and services. Of course, the first challenge in the process is just getting the supplies on the ground and into camps. Once there, the work is far from over. Distributing these supplies across understaffed and overcrowded refugee camps is a labor intensive and complex task involving several moving parts.

In many camps, aid workers are tasked with monumental challenge of ensuring fair and equitable distribution of supplies across multiple distribution points. Often, workers are unable to adequately track who needs supplies, where the supplies are held and how much of something is left.

When a UPS employee volunteered in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the logistical challenges facing crisis zones became abundantly clear. With this in mind, UPS worked with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to develop “Relief Link” – a system that uses UPS tracking technology to improve aid workers’ ability to provide assistance to refugees.

Before Relief Link, refugees needed to be tracked by hand, using only pencils and papers. Aside from the glaring inefficiencies of this process, the practice did nothing to help workers ensure that food and life-saving supplies were issued equitably and appropriately. Using their “TrackPad” technology, UPS created a system where aid workers can use handheld devices to help process deliveries, administer aid and keep track of all the refugees under their care.

The implementation of this new technology has allowed workers to track the entire supply chain journey from start to finish, including the critical “last mile” of delivery.

Davies Kamau, a registration officer at Mauritania’s Mberra Camp described how the needs of the camp haven’t changed, but the new technology has given them a better ability to serve all of the refugees in need. “The distributions that we conduct have not changed much, we still have the same corridors as we used to have, and we still have the same number of people,” explained Kamau. “But the UPS system has made it much easier for us, and much more efficient.”

In its initial test in the Maurianian refugee camps, Relief Link led to a 50% reduction in delivery times, while eliminating much of the opportunity for human error and inequities. Once scaled, this type of improvement could be life changing for hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps around the world.

The global challenges of caring for refugees remains formidable, but critical innovations like Relief Link are helping to get life-saving supplies to those in need more efficiently than ever before. As USAID, the UNHCR, and others continue to work to combat this crisis, supplies, and resources will be critical.

Whether in South Sudan, Bangladesh, Syria or elsewhere, technological advancements and more efficient tracking, thanks in part to systems like UPS’ Relief Link, is helping aid workers be more precise — ensuring maximum impact and saving more lives.

photo description: A UNHCR worker using UPS’ Relief Link.
photo credit: UPS Pressroom