Handling aid – more a way of life?

posted on 27th June 2018

One hundred days after famine was declared in parts of southern Somalia, humanitarian agencies have reached more than half of the four million people who are in danger of dying.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the response has been made possible by international donors who have given $750 million since July.

Notwithstanding the growing effects of climate change, the situation in the country is not being helped by the continued presence of Al-Shabaab, an Islamic terror group that controls parts of south Somalia, a four week-old incursion by Kenya’s military to defeat it, a weak and reportedly corrupt Transitional National Government (TFG), a Western-funded African Union peacekeeping force, and local militias and armed bandits who continue to attack starving Somalis trying to reach aid camps in Mogadishu, Ethiopia and Kenya.

OCHA is leading the international aid effort to gain access to new areas in the south previously cut off by Al-Shabaab. But after months of drought, agencies are now struggling to tackle a rise in cholera as a result of flooding.

“In only three months, we have managed to triple the number of people receiving food aid to 2.2 million, and reach over half a million more people with clean water,” says Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “This is a remarkable achievement. Unfortunately, it does not mean that all of those in need are being reached. “

According to Julie Schindall, Save the Children’s advocacy manager for Somalia, the agency has been able to access the capital Mogadishu since August after the TFG took control of most of Mogadishu from Al-Shabaab. Schindall says the airport is now considered a “safe zone” and currently handles many aid flights. Prior to August, any airborne aid had to be delivered to Nairobi and then trucked into the country.

After flash flooding in October washed out the Sigale camp it was supporting, StC organized two flights into Mogadishu with emergency shelters and water purification equipment. Since then two more flights have arrived with plumpy nut – a high-protein paste that doesn’t require water.

Schindall says StC doesn’t not use, nor rely on, military actors to support its supply chain in Somalia. In the case of aid flights, the agency works with its local partner the Centre for Peace & Democracy to oversee offloading, transportation to a warehouse, inventory management and eventual distribution. Most of the sourcing is from Africa although medicines are still flown in from Europe adds Schindall.

“We have a policy of local procurement wherever possible,” she explains: “Water, sanitation and hygiene materials including latrine slabs, jerry cans and bathing stalls are sourced from Mogadishu. Our colleagues are very resourceful and often build things themselves out of local materials – for example the latrine slabs are made from local cement.”

Schindall echoes other international actors in Somalia who are warning of worse to come: “The crisis has not peaked,” she notes. “The aid response is not yet meeting all the needs and we must continue to scale up through 2012.”

In the longer term, Schindall says the situation will repeat itself if sustainable programmes are not put in place to rebuild the agrarian economy with support for farmers, pastoralists and their livestock.

In Kenya, where farmers export much of their produce to Western Europe while other parts of the country face a growing food crisis, Nairobi remains the aid hub for the Horn of Africa. A key airfreight network for the region is provided by 10 year-old Astral Aviation which has partner agreements with several international carriers including Lufthansa, Singapore, Emirates, Etihad and British Airways – which recently delivered 40 tonnes of aid to Nairobi on behalf of UNICEF.

Astral Aviation CEO Sanjeev Gadhia says his company has also been operating into Mo gadishu since August with traffic peaking in September while continuing through November. “Astral has operated more than 50 flights from Nairobi to Mogadishu using DC9, B727 and B737 freighter aircraft. The handling in Mogadishu is done by SKA Arabia which has all the required equipment to handle both cargo and aircraft along with experienced personnel.”

Ground handling in Nairobi is done by four licensed companies: Kenya Airways, Swissport, Kenya Aerotech and Tradewinds Express – which remains the preferred handler for Astral and its DC-9 freighter fleet that is soon to be replaced with larger MD83 aircraft.

Gadhia notes that while aid traffic is duty-free, transit or transhipment fees have to be paid to Kenya Customs. “They are very expensive as a Customs agent must provide a Customs bond for the cargo in transit. Cargo fees are estimated at approx $0.75 cents a kilo and there is no exemption for relief goods,” he adds. With at least two working days required to arrange transhipment, obviously the longer the aid sits in a Nairobi bonded facility, the greater the delivery cost.

While Kenya remains the main destination for flying aid into the Horn of Africa because of the number of commercial flights, trucking across the Kenya/Somalia border has what Gadhia says are “security concerns that can result in logistical challenges” which is why Mombasa is currently congested with ocean shipments some of which are bound for the Horn of Africa.

Gadhia suggests security at Mogadishu is under control thanks to the efforts of the African Union and the UN. “The airport has been relatively safe with no incidences reported on any of the Astral flights. However, there are security arrangements which are adhered to by our operations team prior to the flight which ensures that any risks are contained prior to departure. As an airline we provide no security for aid-shipments at the airport and cannot comment on the distribution of the aid cargo once it arrives in Mogadishu.”

Astral’s CEO acknowledges that the “aid business” while impacted by regional conflicts, natural disasters and famine, prompts a very close cooperation between all the actors – whether they are agencies, governments, NGOs or logistics suppliers.

“Aid agencies work very closely with each other and form clusters to improve on efficiency and delivery on the ground. The major players in logistics are Kuehne+Nagel due to its framework agreements with certain UN Agencies, while other organizations such as DHL, Agility, DAMCO, Geodis Wilson and SDV-Bollore are penetrating the aid and relief sector. By far the largest client is Kuehne+Nagel in Kenya who has sub-contracted Astral for various missions into Sudan and Somalia.”

Gadhia says his company has expansion plans in 2012 that not only include replacement aircraft but also new routes to the Democrat Republic of the Congo, Angola and destinations in the Indian Ocean. Unlike Schindall, he thinks the Horn of Africa situation is showing some signs of improvement and hopes the Kenyan military’s involvement in Somalia will allow more aid, and agencies, into the south of the country.

On the other hand he notes that while Kenya is the world’s largest supplier of French beans from rich agricultural land in the centre and west of the country, it is a different story in the north where drought is having a severe impact:  “It is truly sad that parts of the country are facing famine” he observes. “Furthermore Kenyans do not consume French beans in the same proportion as the exports, hence the fact that although Kenya exports horticultural products to Europe, a lot of the products are not consumed locally.”

For Schindall and Gadia, the challenge of sustaining Africa seems to be what gets them up every day. As the Save the Children advocate puts it: “If I can speak on behalf of my colleagues, I think we’re passionate about our work and feel strongly that we have a responsibility to protect children and help them achieve their full potential. I’m probably like a lot of people – I like feeling I’m doing something to help. I feel very strongly about speaking up for people who are often overlooked or marginalised due to poverty – a ‘voice for the voiceless’ so to speak.”

SKA – not your ordinary airport supplier

Being a supplier of fuel, aviation services and logistics in three of the most dangerous places in the world is hardly the first option for most companies.

SKA International, based in Dubai, UAE provides all three services in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia or as CEO Mike Douglas says:  Doing difficult jobs in difficult places is not just a marketing slogan, it is a matter of proven historical record.”

SKA, which handles for Astral Aviation in Mogadishu, began providing fuel services in Iraq in 2003 and has since expanded into Kuwait, UAE, Afghanistan, Somalia, Uganda and South Africa.

In less than a decade, the company has acquired a unique fuel service competence including facility construction, inventory management, fuel additives and distribution equipment for very remote locations at very short notice

Today, SKA is a major fuel and supply chain logistics provider in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Africa for the US military, the UN as well as industrial users and power plants. The company claims to be the only private foreign entity to remain contracted by the Iraq Ministry of Oil after six years to supply commercial aviation fuel at Baghdad, Basrah, Erbil, Mosul, Sulaimaniyah and Najaf airports.

SKA also provides aviation fuelling in Bagram, Afghanistan and Mogadishu where it operates its own airport fuel storage systems to handle any size of commercial and military up to the AN- 225, the world’s largest cargo airplane.

The company is currently involved in managing and constructing several major fuel storage depots including its latest at the port of Khor Al Zubair in southern Iraq that is capable of storing and distributing 20,000 tonnes of fuel.

Given its experience with handling Jet-A 1 fuel in some of the most dangerous in the world, providing turnkey logistics should be no problem for the company and its portfolio of secure warehousing and yard storage facilities, Customs clearance, trucking, heavylift and secure asset tracking.

The company’s flagship distribution hub in Safwan, southern Iraq provides a virtual warehouse IT system where customers can view inventory in real-time 24 hours day and issue online delivery orders.