In the northwest of Panama City, a group of 30 humanitarians has gathered. They overlook a queue of vessels lining to pass one of the most strategic canals in the world. Flying in from across the region, they have arrived in Panama to attend the first Logistics Cluster Induction Training for the Caribbean and Latin America, and the first Logistics Cluster training to be held in Spanish. In total, they represent 13 countries – from Bolivia to Honduras - and 11 humanitarian and development organisations. For many participants, this is their first time meeting with other humanitarian logistics professionals in the region.
“The event’s magic is built on the exchange of ideas that takes place. It’s a unique forum to discuss grassroots initiatives, swap stories on operational realities, and identify parallels,” explains Jesus Gutierrez Olivos, one of the training’s facilitators and former Logistics Cluster Coordinator for the Venezuela operation.
When it comes to emergency logistics, Latin America and the Caribbean offers a unique operational context.
Compared to logistics responses in other corners of the globe, here the focus of humanitarian operations is centred largely on cash transfers and strengthening linkages between humanitarian and development activities - not the delivery of in-kind donations. National disaster management systems are strong and infrastructure is generally robust, but the risks of large-scale disasters remain high given the region’s susceptibility to seismic events, the effects of the El Niño phenomenon and hurricanes. These events have demonstrated their impact on the region over the past decade, and each has put countries’ infrastructure to the test, as the different actors respond to reach impacted communities, both urban and rural. Because of this, the need to share best practices and build bridges between local, national and regional responders is critical.
Each country has developed national coordination initiatives such as working groups, mesas logísticas or national logistics sectors. To make sure these locally driven structures can make the most of what they have and seek international support when needed, communication, preparation and meeting one another is paramount.
"A set of well thought out exercises allowed us to fully understand the role of the Logistics Cluster,” recalls Melissa Sánchez Kirsch, Logistics and Commercial Coordinator of the Regional Logistics Center of Panama, a national entity which works hand-in-hand with the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot located in-country.
What’s next for the region?
“What we want to do is continue to organize trainings and continue to bring key actors in the region together. We want to make sure those learning in the classroom get to know one another. That way, if and when they are called to respond to regional and national emergencies together, the response will be stronger, and affected communities can be reached faster’’ answers Samuel Kealey, capacity strengthening focal point and WFP Logistics Officer for the region.
Want to know more about the Logistics Cluster's training program? Visit the training page of our website here.