Zimbabwe + 5 more

Southern Africa: Logistics a key element of emergency operation

DURBAN, 28 November (IRIN) - A variety of issues - such as the controversy regarding genetically modified (GM) food aid - have created challenges for logisticians working to keep the relief pipeline for Southern Africa open.
Poul Skov is the World Food Programme's (WFP) logistic officer/port captain in Durban, the entry point for the majority of food aid in the region.

Skov's office was just recently established, in fact it will only be fully staffed and operational in December. At present he has to manage 60,000 mt of various food aid commodities in the port. Maintaining the health of the stock has become a major challenge.

"Our responsibilities are to handle all logistics services in Durban, [in cooperation] with other entities. The [port] office is going to be responsible for the dispatching of cargo to countries in need in Southern Africa, to monitor the cargo we have [stored] here in port and to make sure it remains healthy," Skov said.

Last week they dispatched about 4,600 mt of stock. "It has gone down, previously we dispatched between 6,000 mt and 7,000 mt. This was partly due to the situation in Zimbabwe, with the GM maize issue having halted the transport of cargo to Zimbabwe," he added.

Monitoring the health of the stock has meant conducting daily inspections and spraying to prevent moss and insect infestation.

"If you find infestation you have to arrange for fumigations of the cargo. At the moment the stock is in horizontal storage in bins, this carries a high risk of infestation. We prefer silos, it allows better management of the health of the stock. But for reasons of congestion - the silo's are full - we have to store it in bins," Skov said.

Delays caused by the controversy surrounding the acceptance of GM maize - Zambia has rejected GM food aid while other countries in the region have insisted GM food be milled prior to distribution - has impacted on the food aid pipeline.

"It affects me in that the routine is bogged down, there's no off-take [delivery] to the destination [the beneficiary countries]. It's a highly political thing. There's 3,000 mt of maize sitting in [rail] wagons that was meant for Zimbabwe, the GM maize may have to be taken off and stored in silos somewhere until it is sorted out," he said.

Rail operator Spoornet would want its wagons turned-around as quickly as possible so as to maximise their use and profitability.

"They may say it's okay [to keep the GM maize stored on the wagons] for a while, but they will need their wagons soon," Skov said.

This could become a problem as further relief shipments were expected soon. "Shipments are already en-route to Durban and, if worst comes to worst, they will have to be diverted to other ports. Durban is one of the main points of entry for shipments, feeding the [food aid] pipeline to the entire region and the Relogs [Regional Logistics] office in Johannesburg has to manage the food pipeline for the whole region," Skov added. This emphasised the need for smooth operations in the port.

With stock pressures building in Durban, storing the food in "an adequate manner, according to the manual of WFP" has become Skov's main focus.

Another challenge was dealing with transporters contracted to deliver food as "they are private operators, so their aims differ from WFP". "But the main challenge is keeping food healthy and getting them out of the bins and into silos," Skov added.

"When you break the pipeline, you break the distribution [of food aid to beneficiaries]. [It was vital] that we make sure the pipeline ticks over, we do so in very close cooperation with Johannesburg - where the information regarding needs is gathered - and my job is to get it [food aid] underway as soon as possible," said Skov.


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