He adds: “In the Pacific, the majority of people will use tarpaulins for water harvesting so you cannot give them an inferior tarpaulin because the chemicals have a carcinogen in them and you’d be poisoning the people you’re trying to help.”
After procurement came logistics. Oxfam took a look at the transport infrastructure in the various locations, including wharf facilities for unloading containers, and cross-country transport routes. But they could only do so much research, mentions Kenna.
“You never really know until the emergency happens, you don’t know which part of the country it’ll be in,” he says. “I find that these emergencies in the Pacific are far more complex and difficult logistically because sometimes you’re down to using canoes, or donkeys to carry stuff up mountains.”
Another consideration relates to the storage and longevity of the items in the kits. The 5,000 kits fit into four shipping containers, which need to be protected from theft. And while Oxfam has purchased good quality containers, it is uncertain how the contents will fare under tropical conditions.
“We have a plan in place that if we haven’t used something for 3-4 years and it starts to perish, we’d probably distribute it to health departments in those countries who could then give it out to the poor, then we’d replace those stocks,” says Kenna of their contingency.
And therein lies another problem they did not anticipate: bureaucracy relating to the import of the kits. Ordinarily, when disaster strikes, the government will declare a state of emergency and supplies would be readily accepted into the country. Not so for this type of disaster preparation, Kenna discovered.
“We didn’t do enough research into the countries accepting our items duty free. I’m having problems with two of the governments I’m dealing with,” he admits. “You can never do enough research for something like this, you have to anticipate every little thing.”
But the project is still worthwhile, even if the kits have to come from Brisbane. “If there was an emergency in East Timor, I have the capacity to have goods on a plane within three hours of notification out of Brisbane,” he says.
As for the future of the project, Kenna believes it will expand in a variety of ways, first with other Oxfam branches taking up the idea in their regions, but also with an increase to the number of pre-positioning sites in the Asia-Pacific.
Importantly, the project has also been a gateway for cooperation with other NGOs. At the moment, Oxfam share the Brisbane warehouse with World Vision and the Australian Red Cross, and they also share economies of scale when buying items.
But Kenna says the commercial sector is also keen to get involved as they see it’s a worthwhile project. Corporate and/or government sponsorship could open up possibilities from just supplying kits to training sponsors’ staff in emergency response logistics. “We’re looking to do more disaster training in the countries we work in,” says Kenna. “I’m busily chasing people to fund that. It’s easy to maintain the supply chain in a disaster if people have the training to do it.”
All in all, the pre-positioning pilot project is a key part of Oxfam’s disaster risk reduction. “It’s a big part of what we do, trying to reduce the risk of disasters by having stocks on hand that could be lifesaving or could prevent the outbreak of disease,” says Kenna.
But let’s hope they never have to use those stocks.