When Julie Vanderwiel-Hakme joined WFP in 2011 as a Donor Relations intern in WFP HQ in Rome, little did she know she’d be running the Logistics Cluster’s Somalia operation just a few years later. Eager to get to the field, in 2013 she joined the Logistics Cluster in South Sudan as an Information Management Officer, thrown right in at the deep end working in one of the most complex humanitarian operations at the time. South Sudan, with all its access and security challenges, its vast humanitarian community and huge range of logistics opportunities (road, river, air transport, storage, infrastructure rehabilitation etc.) is the crème de la crème of logistics operations – truly in a class of its own.
Julie quickly discovered her love for logistics in complex contexts and after a few years developing her expertise and gaining invaluable first-hand experience, she then became the Logistics Cluster Coordinator in Iraq in 2016, responding to the Mosul emergency. She then moved back to Rome, now as a Supply Chain Officer and Special Assistant to the Deputy Director of WFP Supply Chain. Keen to return to the field and get back in the action, she was deployed as the Logistics Sector Coordinator for the Cyclone Response in Malawi in 2019.
And where is she now? She’s currently spearheading the Somalia Logistics Cluster Operation as the Cluster Coordinator, leading a team supporting the humanitarian community, responding to the three emergencies Somalia is currently facing.
What’s the best part of working in a Logistics Cluster operation?
One of the best things about working as part of any Logistics Cluster operation is the exposure it gives you to the wider response of the humanitarian community. I really enjoy the external engagement aspect of my job – we work with partners from national and international NGOs, governments, UN agencies etc. In all the operations in which I’ve worked, I’ve met some fantastic people and learned so much about the importance of collaboration and coordination in complex environments.
It’s always exciting and dynamic – each day brings a new challenge and I thrive on working to find solutions.
You’ve worked in South Sudan and also Iraq, two major emergencies with very different demands. Could you tell us a bit about working in these contexts?
First, the operating contexts of both South Sudan and Iraq are dramatically different from a logistics standpoint. In South Sudan our main obstacle was the severely limited infrastructure whereas Iraq presented different challenges. My work in South Sudan was country-wide whereas in Iraq it was predominately focused on the Mosul emergency. During the Mosul emergency, the Logistics Cluster in Iraq was supporting partners in many ways, but mostly with the setting up of storage inside and around IDP camps. This meant that they could pre-position critical relief items to provide vital support to those who had fled Mosul City. We also worked very closely with the local authorities and our main objective was to ensure that humanitarian supplies could be fast-tracked to be delivered as quickly as possible. During this emergency, we actually established a one-stop shop to fast-track customs approvals.
In South Sudan, the scale and scope are much larger, and so the emergency focused more on coverage – how we could get urgent relief supplies across the country, and cater to the needs of different areas. For example, some areas would have severe access challenges due to ongoing conflict and physical constraints, whereas the main issue in others would be severe humanitarian needs or devastating impacts of flooding. We deployed helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, trucks, barges – it was one of the most multi-faceted operations I have worked in.
Tell us a bit about the Somalia operation - What are the main challenges?
The Somalia operation is complex in its own way. Much like South Sudan and Iraq, it’s also dynamic. As well as the security issues that present constant logistics challenges, it’s also a country that’s severely affected by climatic shocks: each year brings flooding and droughts which increase the humanitarian needs and cut off communities, meaning there’s even more of a demand for common logistics services to reach those affected. And right now, like in most countries, we are also responding to the needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak – this one is particularly complex as the restrictions on travel have been causing delays in the ability of the humanitarian community to get relief supplies and staff into the country.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Somalia on 16 March and it’s made the already fragile situation even more complex, increasing humanitarian requirements in many parts of the country.
At the moment it must be pretty intense with all that’s going on in Somalia – the ‘triple threat’ emergency of COVID-19, Desert Locusts and devastating floods. Can you tell us a bit more about the uniqueness of the Somalia operation?
Somalia is currently facing an especially challenging time. COVID-19 is affecting lives and livelihoods, flooding has devasted key infrastructure in some of the most vulnerable regions – over 900,000 people have been affected and 412,000 displaced - and it’s also experienced the worst desert locust upsurge in 25 years. And this ‘triple threat’ emergency, as it’s been coined, comes alongside other existing complex humanitarian crises of protracted conflict and displacement. Due to these significant challenges and the need for an acceleration of the humanitarian response, the Logistics Cluster was reactivated on 26 April.
At the moment the cluster is providing COVID-19 response support to Somalia’s Ministry of Health, as well as other health partners, through the air transportation of urgent medical items, as well as providing and installing storage facilities. The cluster is also supporting the ongoing flood response, facilitating the provision of airlifts to the worst-affected areas on behalf of key partners including the government, NGOs and UN agencies.
Always a difficult question - what do you want to do next?
That is a difficult question! Whatever I do next it will have to be something logistics-related. The Supply Chain function is filled with wide-ranging logistics skills and experiences, and a strong sense of teamwork and purpose. This has been one of the most rewarding parts of my time with WFP and the Logistics Cluster, and I hope to find the same in future assignments!
To learn more about the Logistics Cluster operation in Somalia, visit our dedicated page here.