For the past 30 years, WFP, the lead agency of the Logistics Cluster, has collaborated with a vast network of Standby Partners, consisting of public and private organizations that complement WFP’s operational capacity by providing staffing, equipment and services. Standby Partnerships are activated in emergency situations or when WFP needs specific technical expertise.

Standby Partner Experts are deployed in various job positions and provide crucial support to operations for a period ranging between 3 to 12 months.

Crispin Tshiasmala, a Congolese expert deployed by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) is one of these experts. Deployed to support the emergency response in the Tigray Region in northern Ethiopia for 12 months, Crispin recently told us about his responsibilities as Field Logistics Cluster Coordinator based in Mekele in the conflict-affected region.

Crispin Tshiasmala in his office in Tigray. Photo: WFP
Crispin Tshiasmala in his office in Tigray. Photo: WFP

You’ve supported the emergency response in Tigray Region, Ethiopia since January 2021. Why did you decide to contribute your time and experience as a Standby Partner?

I am passionate about humanitarian service. Since 2010, I have worked with MSB as a standby partner expert and as such I am periodically deployed in emergencies to fulfill technical gaps within UN agencies and other entities. I like the standby partnership mechanism because it exposes me to a variety of complex operations. When MSB informed me in January 2021 that WFP needed a Logistic Roving Officer in Ethiopia, I was naturally eager to support the response scale up in Tigray. Thanks to the speedy SBP process, I was deployed to Tigray shortly afterwards to coordinate the Logistics Cluster’s activities in Mekele and neighboring areas.

What have been your main tasks during this deployment?

In most humanitarian operations there are three important Clusters led by WFP - Emergency Telecommunications and Logistics, and Food Security co-led with FAO. The Logistics Cluster provides the humanitarian community with timely logistics support and operational information. When there are bottlenecks in the supply chain infrastructure, the Cluster facilitates access to common services such as storage and inland transport.

As Mekele Field Logistics Cluster Coordinator, I manage daily operations to dispatch commodities coming from the capital Addis Ababa and to distribute them across the Tigray region. Our team ensures that essential non-food and medical items urgently reach conflict-affected communities across Tigray region. Training technical staff, monitoring missions, coordination meetings and streamlining standard operating procedures are also key components of my work.

How do you work with all the different stakeholders?

Collaboration is key in this area of work. Fortunately, there is a good team spirit within the Logistics Cluster and WFP’s Supply Chain staff. People are just great. Despite the difficult context, everyone is professional and motivated. I also have good relations with other stakeholders, be they UN agencies, NGOs, or private sector operators. We all understand that responding efficiently to such a crisis requires the coordinated work of various partners, each contributing their unique added value. If we want to provide beneficiaries with quality assistance, we must come together.

Crispin during a warehouse visit with partners. Photo: WFP
CrispinTshiasmala during a warehouse visit with partners. Photo: WFP

What challenges have you faced during your current assignment and how have you solved them? What’s surprised you most?

Tigray Region is affected by a series of issues, ranging from insecurity to hard-to-access areas and telecommunications disruptions. We have to be very cautious to avoid endangering our teams, partners and beneficiaries. Another key challenge is having to occasionally work without phone or internet access. Considering that many NGOs don’t have VHF radio, when there are important communications to release, I sometimes have to go around with a driver to dispatch information. Fortunately, WFP drivers are real troopers and know all partners offices in the field.

What do you consider your top achievements and where do you feel you work has made an impact?

Strengthening the Logistics Cluster capacity and reach is definitely my main achievement, but other moments also stand out. With the persisting COVID-19 pandemic and other epidemiological risks, safety compliance is paramount, and all partners are striving to support the health response led by the Government and WHO. When WHO solicited the Logistic Cluster in June 2021 to transport medical materials for a cholera vaccination campaign, we quickly mobilized trucks and delivered the 51 mt cargo to five different locations in Tigray Region. The campaign was successful, and WHO later sent us an appreciation letter for our support. This made my day.

Has there been a special personal moment during your assignment? What is your best story?

I love capacity building activities and sharing my know-how. Unsurprisingly, one of my favorite moments was the first training I conducted in Mekele. The objective was to inform partners about the Logistics Cluster services. Participants really enjoyed the session, including the visit we carried out at a WFP warehouse. By the end of the training, all attendees had a better understanding of the type of support they could expect from the cluster. They even requested other training sessions. This first training made me realize the cluster’s critical role in Ethiopia and gave me a huge sense of responsibility and community, which was a great way to kick off my mission.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned through this response?

Adaptability is key for success in humanitarian work. No matter what challenges we may face, we must not allow obstacles to hinder our willingness to meet our objectives. Despite the complexities of the operation, I remain determined to deliver quality work and ensure that lifesaving items reach vulnerable populations.

Learn more about the Logistics Cluster operation in Ethiopia here.