Challenges in humanitarian logistics management: an empirical study on pre-positioned warehouses

S. Roh, Dong-Wook Kwak, A. Beresford, S. Pettit

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding


Purpose of this paper: The ultimate goal of humanitarian relief logistics is to deliver the right supplies in the right quantities to the right locations at the right time, so save lives and reduce human suffering within given financial constraints. Pre-positioned warehouses at strategic locations are essential for this purpose to ensure the availability of supplies when required and to facilitate faster responses. However, some NGOs find it risky to operate pre-positioned warehouses because it is both complicated and expensive given the limitations in finance and resources. Indeed, pre-positioned warehouses for humanitarian relief create various types of risks, but they haven’t been fully explored yet. This study, therefore, aims to investigate the challenges in humanitarian relief operations relating to pre-positioned warehouses. In specific, this research focuses on the interactions between various risk factors within the humanitarian logistics management in order to understand how those challenges are generated and enhanced. Design/methodology/approach: The study adopted multi-phase mixed methods, combining semi-structured interviews and Interpretive Structural Modelling (ISM). Firstly, it explored the main risk factors of pre-positioned humanitarian distribution centres by interviewing with practitioners in the humanitarian aid organisations. 25 Face-to-face and telephone interviews were administered, February to April 2012, with 25 personnel at the managerial or higher level in the organisations. Secondly, the risk factors found out in the interviews are analysed by ISM, an analytic framework to encapsulate the relationships of specific elements in a complex system. After receiving the opinions of 10 experts on the pairwise relationships among the risks, the stepwise process of ISM generated the interactive structure of these risk factors. Findings: The interviews unpacked 17 representative risk factors that have considerable impacts on maintaining pre-positioned warehouses, such as high inventory cost and failure in forecasting. The directed graph from ISM showed that the risks consist of three levels, namely threats to the values of humanitarian logistics operations (Level 1), disturbances in logistics activities (Level 2) and disruptions by external factors (Level 3). Among them, Level 2 risks were enhanced by three closed loops of risk interactions mainly centred on high transport cost. Value: This research empirically identified various risks in operating pre-positioned warehouses for humanitarian logistics and created a structure of risk interactions in order to understand how the challenges are generated and enhanced. Research limitations/implications (if applicable): This study confined its scope of research to the risks stemming from operations of prepositioned warehouses. Future research can expand the research scope to the entire process of humanitarian relief logistics. Practical implications (if applicable): The risk profile can provide a checklist for humanitarian logistics practitioners to assess the level of risks in their operations. Given the levels and feedback loops of risk factors, they can also find out which risk factor should be intensively mitigated to reduce the risk level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Subtitle of host publicationReflections on Supply Chain Research and Practice
EditorsK.S. Pawar, H. Rogers, E. Ferrari
Place of PublicationNottingham, UK
PublisherNottingham University Business School
ISBN (Print)9780853583080
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventInternational Symposium of Logistics - Bologna, Italy
Duration: 5 Jul 20158 Jul 2015


ConferenceInternational Symposium of Logistics


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