UNICEF leverages supply chain expertise to deliver for children
A rapidly changing world requires an agile supply response to meet the needs of children.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on humanitarian supply chains has been immense, with major disruptions to air- and sea-freight industries. Container shortages, extended shipping timelines and high transport costs are symptoms that continue to persist.
At the same time, 2022 bore witness to many other emergencies. The war in Ukraine, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa and Sahel are just some of the events having devastating consequences for children.
A changing landscape
The complex nature of protracted humanitarian crises as well as emerging new crises, are posing major challenges for supply chains.
“Getting supplies to children and communities has never been as challenging,” said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF Supply Division. “Multiple and concurrent emergencies, coupled with the current macro-economic context is exacerbating problems in a supply chain already weakened by the pandemic. It’s also highlighting the interdependencies that exist in the end-to-end supply chain, such as access to raw materials, shipping delays, rising inflation and soaring energy prices.”
This rapidly evolving landscape means UNICEF must continue to be agile and adaptive to ensure essential supplies reach children as quickly as possible.
Looking forward to 2023
With 2023 on the horizon, emergency preparedness continues to be a topic of intense focus, especially as learnings emerge from the pandemic response. As the world faced an emergency of unparalleled levels, so too did UNICEF’s supply efforts. UNICEF delivered COVID-19 vaccines and syringes to the world on behalf of COVAX, while continuing its work to ship routine vaccines and a range of emergency and programmatic supplies – all in the face of transportation turmoil. The transformative nature of this experience has had a profound effect on how we approach our work.
UNICEF recently held a Global Supply Meeting, bringing together UNICEF’s procurement and logistics experts from around the world to reflect on opportunities and challenges, and to make decisions on supply strategies in 2023 and beyond, and the key elements that UNICEF, governments, donors and the private sector must consider.
With the ever increasing threat of climate-related disasters including storms, floods, heatwaves and events such as disease outbreaks, pre-positioning and strengthened planning of essential supplies to meet the needs of affected communities will be critical.
Local production is one strategy to support access to essential supplies. Manufacturing products closer to where they are distributed not only diversifies the supplier base and supports local economies, but also can help get supplies quickly to where they are needed, at reduced cost.
Strong collaboration with industry is another important strategy. Each year, UNICEF convenes industry consultations across a range of product categories, including vaccines, logistics, and nutrition. These consultations bring together private sector and other partners to discuss trends, challenges and future outlooks. This ongoing dialogue is critical to identify and quickly address emerging issues.
For example, some manufacturers of nutrition products have recently faced challenges attaining pre-financing to scale up production of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).
To address this challenge, UNICEF is working with partners to implement innovative financing mechanisms to support manufacturers to ramp up supply. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) recently committed $50 million to establish a working capital facility to support the rapid scale-up of production of RUTF.
The private sector is also important in overcoming obstacles in the supply chain. Throughout the pandemic, UNICEF benefitted significantly from the sector’s support. A major boost for logistics operations came through the Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, a commitment by some of the world’s biggest airlines to prioritise UNICEF shipments of COVID-19 supplies.
To make sure we have a sustainable, efficient supply chain, private sector collaboration is crucial, says Kadilli. “We need to leverage its strengths and know-how, to help bridge gaps and overcome challenges. A multilateral outlook is the future of partnering for our supply operations.”