Efficient, effective supply chain management can alleviate human suffering in Ukraine and mitigate conflict’s impact on global supply chains
MJ Schoemaker, president of SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management in Southern Africa)

Supply chain management is not a profession that most people would associate with war. However, as the conflict in Ukraine escalates, global supply chains and the importance of supply chain management are again in the spotlight, as they were during the COVID-19 crisis. Humanitarian supply chain management has a crucial role to play in alleviating human suffering in Ukraine. The skills, competence and risk management strategies of supply chain professionals, and the flexibility and resilience of supply chains, will also be challenged as the crisis impacts global supply chains. This is the contention of MJ Schoemaker, president of SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management in Southern Africa).

“From a field that not many people understood, the supply chain management profession garnered attention during the COVID-19 crisis. Amid the challenges of the pandemic, supply chain professionals were responsible for ensuring the movement of essential goods and services, including the distribution of vaccines,” states Schoemaker. “Supply chain management is again making headlines as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is set to affect global supply chains and the world’s attention is on the humanitarian logistics needed to support people in Ukraine and refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries,” she expands.

Humanitarian logistics is a branch of supply chain and logistics that specialises in organising the delivery and warehousing of supplies during natural disasters and emergencies, explains Schoemaker.

The rapidly intensifying conflict in Ukraine has sparked a critical and abrupt humanitarian crisis as essential supplies and services are disrupted and civilians flee the fighting. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than four million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries in the coming months.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths says: “Families with small children are hunkered down in basements and subway stations or running for their lives to the terrifying sound of explosions and wailing sirens. Casualty numbers are rising fast.”

Christian Saunders, assistant secretary general for Supply Chain at the UN reported that the first Ukraine bound convoy with critical humanitarian equipment and supplies departed the United Nations logistics base in Brindisi, Italy, on Tuesday, 1 March 2022. He commended the United Nations Global Service Centre volunteer drivers.

“We live in an increasingly VUCA world. Everything is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – including supply chains. Imagine the additional challenges to be contended with when delivering emergency supplies into a war zone,” says Schoemaker. “The families and children caught in the middle of the conflict, who may have fled their homes with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, need food, clothing, medicine and even water.

“Supply chain management is essentially about getting the right goods in the right quantity to the right place at the right time at the right price. The goal is the same in humanitarian supply chains, but almost everything is uncertain and subject to rapid change at any time. Humanitarian supply chains are unstable and subject to political and military influence. The supply chain specialists must contend with inadequate logistics infrastructure, along with the origins of and destinations for relief supplies shifting without warning. Thorough planning, preparation and the involvement of experienced, knowledgeable supply chain professionals and logisticians is crucial. Private sector supply chain management and logistics best practices can and should be leveraged to improve the performance of humanitarian supply chains,” Schoemaker stresses.

She notes that economists and agricultural experts have also warned that the supply chain impact of the conflict is likely to be felt in Africa and says that supply chain professionals will have to rise to the challenges to manage the risks. “There is significant agricultural trade between Russia and Ukraine and the African continent. African imports from the two countries include wheat, maize, sunflower oil, barley and soybeans. The major importers are Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa. Economists have also warned that the war in Ukraine could push oil prices up and increase inflation in Africa.

“The rise of supply chain management continues. There is growing recognition of the importance of the profession and the need for skilled, suitably qualified, professional supply chain specialists who hold the power not just to get goods from A to B, but to save lives and build economies,” Schoemaker concludes.