Across the atolls: Logistics Capacity Assessments in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

05 April 2018
Logistics Preparedness in the Pacific

Stretching more than 3,200 kilometres east to west (a distance that exceeds that of Paris to Moscow!), and scattered across 3.5 million square kilometres, the Republic of Kiribati is made up of 33 coral atolls and islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Logistics Cluster first began working in Kiribati in 2017 as part of strengthening overall humanitarian logistics capacity and ensuring Pacific island countries are equipped with the tools they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies, in a region which is becoming increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Following a Logistics Cluster training in January 2018 held in collaboration with the Kiribati National Disaster Management Office, the World Food Programme (WFP) – as global lead of the Logistics Cluster - is also finalising the country’s first Logistics Capacity Assessment (LCA).

The WFP team in Fiji sat down with Ian Ross on his way back from Kiribati to talk about disaster preparedness, distances and compiling an LCA in the small Pacific Island nation.

What was it like undertaking a LCA in Kiribati?

It was very rewarding. I had the feeling that people I chatted with hadn’t had too many logisticians coming in and asking what can sometimes seem like silly questions and so overall, people were responsive and receptive to the whole process. There was a real engagement and buy in for what we were trying to achieve.

Talk us through the challenges.

One of the biggest challenges was time and travel – nothing is quick!

When you go to somewhere like Christmas Island you’re there for a week, regardless of how long you need to be there for - there’s only one flight in and out every seven days. Given the long distances, I also wasn’t able to visit all 21 inhabited islands covered in the LCA, and so because you’re relying on a range of different sources and contacts for information. Even the simplest fact can take a surprisingly lengthy time to verify and document.

The other obvious challenge was language. The further the distance travelled into the outer islands, the less English is spoken and while everyone is very helpful and friendly, without the local language it can be a challenge to communicate what an LCA is, which can ultimately impact the type of information you’re receiving – if the community doesn’t understand why you’re there, it can become trickier to navigate. 

How do you believe the LCA will help strengthen Kiribati’s preparedness and logistical capacities?

Humanitarian logistics is still quite a new concept in Kiribati, and so I think this has helped in creating a good starting point. Overall, I think it’s brought good awareness around what logistics information can be helpful for disaster response and planning, and has provided a good template on what questions should continue to be asked and answered moving forward.