Of Tsunamis & Supply Chains: Getting the Right Aid to the Right People at the Right Time


In the wake of the devastating tsunami disaster, a secondary distribution disaster is unfolding. Read how one organization is solving this problem using supply chain technology.


Imagine a scenario where it’s hard, if not impossible to create an accurate forecast, your sources of supply can vary, and no one really seems to be in charge of coordinating the supply chain. This pretty much sums up the disaster relief supply chain. In a way, it’s quite remarkable that this supply chain actually works, thanks to the compassion and ingenuity of the human spirit. When the Asian tsunami disaster struck, the details of the disaster were brought directly into the homes of millions of potential donors, many of them who responded from across the world.

The Secondary Disaster

But in the days following a disaster, often times a secondary disaster is created as well-intentioned people and organizations donate what they think is needed versus what is actually required. Aid workers must sort through masses of donated items rather than assisting victims. Logistics lines become clogged with noncritical items. The material has to be stored, and sometimes eventually destroyed.

Just days after the tsunami hit, the New York Times reported that emergency provisions were piling up in warehouses and on tarmacs around the Indian Ocean. All too often, a surplus of good intentions leads to relief agencies tripping over one another in what Raymond D. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, has called ‘the anarchy of altruism’ that produces waste, duplication and frustration.

The Inventory Problem

But the current tsunami disaster is not the first to see such waste of donations. During the Bosnian war, at least half of the roughly 30,000 tons of donated medicines and health supplies donated were of little or no value. The cost of destroying donated items was estimated to be upwards of $30M, reported the New England Journal of Medicine. In the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1996, 5 acres of donated clothing was burned or incinerated when it was not needed, according to the CIDI (Center for International Disaster Information).

The Coordination Problem

The problem in delivering humanitarian aid during disaster situations stems from there being no easy way for relief agencies to accurately communicate needs of victims to donors who are willing to help. But by applying supply chain management technology used to help corporations match supply of goods to demand of customers in the for profit world to the problems facing humanitarian aid delivery, a non-profit out of Dallas Texas, Aidmatrix, has been able to create a solution that can reduce the waste and increase the efficiency in delivering aid to disaster victims. Other companies, including Accenture, Sun, Oracle, Dell and EDS also support this concept and have made donations of technology and volunteers to make the Aidmatrix Disaster Relief Network a reality.

“Aidmatrix is about getting the right aid, to the right people, at the right time.”
Lekha Singh, CEO of Aidmatrix.

Aidmatrix: Leveraging Supply Chain Technology

In a disaster situation, relief agencies with workers on the ground can use Aidmatrix technology to post specific needs to an online site. The list can change as the situation unfolds. In turn, individuals and corporations can access this needs list and select items they wish to donate. The system tracks every transaction on a real-time basis, providing updated inventory management, and can produce reports for documentation and assessment of the situation.

When donated items are not appropriate, Aidmatrix allows for monetary donations, in the form of online Virtual Aid Drives. A Virtual Aid Drive allows individuals to donate money toward the purchase of the most needed items whether they be food, medicines, building supplies, etc. and also gives donors visibility to what types of items are needed throughout the lifecycle of the disaster, from emergency aid items to clean up, and through to the necessary activities to rebuilding infrastructures that restore the affected communities to independence and self-sustainability.

Virtual Drives work well in corporate environments as a workplace giving tool. Accenture raised over $78,000 nationally in the two days of their Tsunami Aid Drive, with a minimal amount of resources required to launch the program and a maximum benefit to the victims they are trying to help.

While the potential of Aidmatrix to help in disaster relief is clear, the same principles also apply to other areas of humanitarian aid delivery. With additional solutions available for hunger relief, general humanitarian aid, donation management, and medical and health relief, Aidmatrix has been able to have an impact on the lives of over 37 million people in need, both in times of disaster and in every day life, delivering over 600 million pounds of relief items since July of 2001. Currently, more than 1000 organizations are benefiting from Aidmatrix solutions.

Of course, the true heroes of any disaster situation, and particularly the Asian tsunami situation, are the relief agencies and their workers who reach out directly to the victimis everyday. Hopefully, as donors are able to understand more of the challenges these workers face, and as technology helps them to do their work as efficiently and effectively as possible, the victims of these tragedies will find help to survive and regain their quality of life faster than ever before.

To learn more about Aidmatrix, please contact Margaret Gardner by email, (Margaret_gardner@aidmatrix.org), or by phone, 469/357-8569, or visit the Aidmatrix website www.aidmatrix.org.

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