Pre-positioning of supplies saves lives

How emergency preparedness helped UNICEF to respond to needs of children and families when typhoon Rai hit the Philippines.

UNICEF’s Supply and Logistics Specialist, John Philip Perez
09 May 2023

On 16 December 2021, as families across the Philippines prepared to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones after a two-year COVID-19 travel ban, typhoon Rai (locally known as Odette) hit the central and southern parts of the country with force exceeding the previous records set by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Strong winds reaching 195 km/h before landfall destroyed nine islands and left 2.4 million people needing humanitarian assistance.  

UNICEF’s Supply and Logistics Specialist, John Philip “JP” Perez, shares how pre-positioned supplies helped the emergency response.

Dealing with emergencies

On the day typhoon Odette happened, I was working in the UNICEF Country Office in Manila. When I heard the news, I immediately searched social media channels to see the extent of the damage. Although the typhoon was huge, I was not worried about UNICEF’s readiness to respond to the crisis.  

Since typhoon Haiyan almost ten years earlier, our office learnt how to maintain a minimum level of pre-positioned emergency supplies to meet the needs of 12,500 families for 3–7 days in the UNICEF warehouses in Manila and Cotabato, with a total combined capacity of 2,500 cubic metres.

We also established Long Term Agreements (LTAs) with suppliers and service providers in case we need to scale procurement of family hygiene and dignity kits, jerry cans, teachers and students’ kits, COVID, disinfection kits, school hygiene kits and other life-saving supplies. The Philippines experiences recurrent climate-related emergencies and these preparedness efforts ensure that UNICEF is always ready to hit the ground running, because critical supplies are readily available.

UNICEF staff moving hygiene kits boxes
UNICEF staff works in the dispatch of emergency supplies as part of the response to the Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) in Philippines in December 2021.

The Country Office Emergency team had been tracking typhoon Odette before it hit, and my Supply and Logistics team were aware the impact could be catastrophic. To support the Government-led response efforts, my team immediately reached out to our vendors to be on standby for any advance orders or movements of supplies to affected areas.

Urgent needs

In the first days following the typhoon, children and families urgently needed access to clean water and sanitation, shelter, medicines, and food. To protect communities at risk of waterborne diseases, we provided Aquatabs to purify water, jerrycans to store clean water, family hygiene and dignity kits. We also provided high-performance tents to provide shelter and child-friendly spaces. 

It was not easy getting these supplies to communities in the nine islands with the furthest island 969 km away from Manila. The number of children being admitted with diarrhoea kept rising. The situation was dire, and communities were in urgent need of our support. We used trucks and boats to ensure life-saving supplies reached the worst-hit areas.  

In Copenhagen, Supply Division colleagues worked tirelessly to pack and airlift health kits and other supplies, so these reached us in in less than 72 hours.

Our strong relations with partners, the Government and vendors helped to expedite the passage of UNICEF trucks and ensured the transportation of supplies using ferries that had suspended services due to the holidays. Our vendors stepped in to support the last-mile delivery of supplies – reinforcing the supply chain when our distribution partners became overwhelmed. UNICEF programme and supply colleagues were also on the ground supporting the distribution of supplies to families. In Copenhagen, Supply Division colleagues worked tirelessly to pack and airlift health kits and other supplies, so these reached us in in less than 72 hours.

Agility to respond

Pre-positioning supplies is integral to our office emergency preparedness plan and is essential to ensure we can support families in an emergency and mitigate further crises such as disease outbreaks. For UNICEF to live up to our Core Commitments for Children, pre-positioning of life-saving supplies is an important part of our work especially for countries that are prone to recurring natural and climate-induced disasters. Pre-positioning gives us the agility to respond to emergencies. It is also cost-effective: supplies are cheaper to buy before an emergency hits.

In 2022, UNICEF’s work in emergencies comprised of preparedness activities as well as emergency response. We supported the Government’s response to disasters such as Super Typhoon Noru (Karding), Severe Tropical Storm Nalgae (Paeng), and the North Luzon Earthquake.

In collaboration with partners, UNICEF provided 156,579 children and women with access to primary healthcare; 292,270 individuals with emergency WASH infrastructure, supplies, and services; 376,603 children with screening for wasting; 179,418 children with learning continuity; 6,913 households with humanitarian cash transfers; and over 5.5 million people with messaging on prevention and access to essential services.

UNICEF Philippines
Typhoon Odette hit the country in the middle of a pandemic, increasing the risk of malnutrition, learning loss, violence, abuse and exploitation for many children. UNICEF continues to work with the Government and partners in ensuring that children and families most affected by the emergency have access to life-saving support and services as they rebuild their lives. We remain committed to protecting children's rights, especially during emergencies.

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