Building a supply pipeline amid war
The war in Ukraine has raged for six months. To meet the ever-changing needs of children caught up in the emergency, UNICEF has been adapting its response to deliver life-saving supplies.
The war in Ukraine has taken an unimaginable toll on children and their families. Almost 1,000 children have been killed or injured, while 5.2 million need humanitarian assistance. The loss and separation of families has caused intense trauma. With the growing needs of children, comes the challenge to send emergency supplies that meets them.
UNICEF has delivered more than 8,500 metric tons of supplies since the war began, destined for children in Ukraine and surrounding countries. Yet, challenges must be overcome to help ensure children’s safety and survival, especially with winter fast approaching. Key to that will be a regular, consistent supply of essential items to reach multiple warehouses for distribution to cities, towns and villages across the country. This autumn UNICEF will be providing winter supplies to around 1,000 hubs in Ukraine, which will help to reach around 450,000 children.
The evolving needs of children
In March and April, during the early stages of the war, one of the most pressing necessities in Ukraine was winter clothes, as harsh temperatures threatened the well-being of children caught up in the war. In the following months, as summer arrived, different needs emerged and the operation became more complex. Demand was constant for health kits containing medicines and first aid equipment, water purification tablets, education materials, midwifery items to assist safe childbirths and even incubators to take care of newborns requiring extra support.
Aside from vital supplies, some sense of normality must return for children. That’s why UNICEF is supporting the rehabilitation of schools that bear the scars of war. September in Ukraine, like many countries around the world, should mark children’s return to learning, laughing and playing.
"The sooner children get back to school, the better, not only to learn but also to have social interactions with each other.”
Emma Maspero, UNICEF Supply Division’s Senior Emergency Manager
“All children need to have access to education” says Emma Maspero, UNICEF Supply Division’s Senior Emergency Manager. “They need to be learning. The sooner children get back to school, the better, not only to learn but also to have social interactions with each other.”
UNICEF is currently helping to renovate around 50 schools in areas severely affected by fighting last spring. The aim is to get these ready for the school year, with the reminders of war removed from the walls and windows of spaces that should be safe.
Consistency of the most-needed supplies
Originally, UNICEF had a single supply route through Poland into Ukraine, where a warehouse was set up on the grounds of an old chicken factory in Lviv. The warehouse was to be temporary, but soon turned into a critical piece of infrastructure as the storage and collection point for supplies heading for children and families throughout Ukraine.
“There's a higher degree of predictability now than there was right at the beginning. In the first few weeks of deliveries, we weren't sure how long it was going to take to get supplies in. We were finding our way,” says Maspero.
UNICEF is now using larger warehouses with better equipment and more loading bays in strategic parts of the country to try to reach as many communities as possible. This helps keep the supply and logistics pipeline running as it’s easier to receive and dispatch trucks. The addition of a Dnipro supply hub has also been instrumental in expanding the reach of supplies, as the closer to children and families that warehouses are, the quicker UNICEF can get supplies into their hands.
It has also become easier to find drivers, as without them trucks can’t leave UNICEF’s Global Supply and Logistics Hub in Copenhagen or the warehouses in Ukraine. This stability in staffing has been a major boost to the transport efforts.
Keeping regular supplies flowing into Ukraine hasn’t been easy. “It’s far from being a perfect pipeline and we're always going to be looking at ways to expand it,” says Jean-Cédric Meeùs, UNICEF Supply Division’s Chief of Transport. “We are always aiming to push supplies through faster because the volume that the UNICEF Ukraine office is ordering is mind blowing. It's bigger than we've ever seen before.”
This is evidenced by the fact that on average 10 to 20 trucks are arriving at UNICEF’s Lviv warehouse on a daily basis with essential supplies.
On the frontline of supply
The supply operation is not just about supplies, but the people that procure, ship and distribute them. UNICEF Supply Division has, since the beginning of the war, been sending warehousing and logistics specialists into Ukraine to support their colleagues to run a fast and efficient supply operation.
"We can’t just think outside the box, we must not see a box in the first place.”
Jean-Cédric Meeùs, UNICEF Supply Division’s Chief of Transport
“We must always adapt our supply chain according to the context and the environment,” says Meeùs. “A big part of that is supporting colleagues in Ukraine to keep thinking of new ways to make things better. Every colleague that has left on assignment is building on someone else’s work, joining together with country office staff to improve the flow of goods. We can’t just think outside the box, we must not see a box in the first place.”
The willingness of staff to be in Ukraine with colleagues that have faced months of danger has helped to build strong connections that result in better, creative solutions to deliver for children.
Where formal distribution networks do not exist, innovation is essential. UNICEF is dependent on local knowledge about not just where to deliver supplies, but what supplies to deliver within communities. This means exploring other networks, including relying on volunteers, communities and local authorities in hard-to-reach areas.
While the war continues, the essence of UNICEF’s response will be to remain flexible and find ways to adjust to a changing situation, especially as winter is fast approaching to reach children across Ukraine.