Published On | December 02, 2011


Humanitarian aid: Everyone must do their part

 From the floods in Thailand to the earthquake in Turkey and the continuing horrors in the Horn of Africa, the world is, as ever, a very challenging place for millions of its inhabitants.
People are homeless, hungry, dying. Yet the world’s inhabitants have enough food, more than enough blankets, and can build enough shelters to ensure everyone can maintain a basic standard of living. The challenge? To get it to the right place, at the right time, to the right people.
Preventing unnecessary deaths is a logistics issue. And we are in the logistics business. So how can we help?
Well, several air cargo companies are trying. Whether its Maximus’ Care By Air program, or TNT and UPS’ Moving the World, there are several organizations using their assets and resources to help alleviate some of the horrors in the world. But we can do more, and we should do more. Companies have a duty to society — and, best of all, their role in society can work in tandem with their goals for business — the two go hand in hand.
Humanitarian logistics can help a company’s bottom line, without creating a negative image that the firm is profiting from the misery of others. If, for example, you donate empty space at cost, you reduce your cost per mile for commercial cargo. The more flights you have, the better economies of scale you enjoy, and, ultimately, you can bring down overhead. It’s simple and effective.
For this to work on a large scale, and for it to make a real difference, we need to work together, both across the supply chain and around the world. Airports certainly have a role to play. Abu Dhabi Airports Company, for example, waives its charges for our Care by Air flights. We are also looking into sourcing cheaper fuel for humanitarian relief. Countries charging overflight tariffs could reduce the prices. Handlers could look into operating at cost. Forwarders could support charitable agencies and stop air cargo prices from rising.
In every step of the supply chain, companies can examine how they could lower their prices to get supplies to those in need. We can cooperate across the board to reduce our overall costs, while helping to heal the world. It’s good for every party involved. But each company, globally, needs to participate if we want to reduce our overall costs while making a difference.
Sadly, however, not all businesses agree that this is the correct approach. Some in our industry are happy to make money from misery, to profiteer from poverty. Many enjoy huge profits from humanitarian crises and see it as one more business opportunity, especially when volumes are down elsewhere.
One of the most shocking examples was Asia’s tsunami in 2004. Cartels were forming among some air operators, and prices were being driven up by as much as $100,000 a day, according to World Vision International. The agency also said that unscrupulous businesses were offering low-quality services while ramping up the profits.
Supply and demand inevitably comes in to play in these situations, but there is no excuse for gouging prices. It is wrong, and it cannot happen in our industry again. We have a duty; we have the assets, and we are able to benefit our business while boosting the relief sector.
At the same time, we can lift the role of commercial companies in society. We can convince the world that air cargo is a vital industry, that it can help those most in need, that it can offer emergency relief, at cost, to any part of the world within 24 hours.
If our industry can take the lead and show that it is responsible, then perhaps governments would look more kindly on our work and understand that air cargo is also a critical industry for world trade. But it’s not just the industry’s reputation that will benefit. Companies can also take their share of the credit and show shareholders worthwhile social responsibility programs. It’s a win for business, it’s a win for the industry, and most important of all, it’s a win for those most in need.

— Fathi Buhazza is the president and CEO of Maximus Air Cargo