Fieldset
Logistics 101

I’m a logistician. What is MSF logistics exactly? When people asked me that before I came to Kindamba, I had a hard time explaining it.

Basically MSF’s fieldwork is divided into two parts – medical activities, and everything else. The “everything else” is logistics.

I’m a logistician. What is MSF logistics exactly? When people asked me that before I came to Kindamba, I had a hard time explaining it.

Basically MSF’s fieldwork is divided into two parts – medical activities, and everything else. The “everything else” is logistics.

In a country like Congo-B, which is slowly recovering from a decade of civil war, a lot of things that you would normally take for granted just aren’t there. Let me give you some examples.

If you want water (and we certainly do), you have to dig a well or trap rainwater. When the dry season comes, you have to put a 5000 litre bladder into a truck, drive to the river, fill it with a pump, drive it back, filter it, and store it.

If you want lights and computers at the base, microscopes and centrifuges in the lab, and an oxygen concentrator in surgery, you need to assemble and maintain your own system of generators and battery backups.

This involves a rat’s nest of cabling, charger-inverters, circuit breakers, solar panels and car batteries. The word in French is ‘bricolage’. As you might expect, this system is not faultless and requires a bit of maintenance now and then. Several times a day, in fact.

And if you want roads, you have to build them, hundreds of kilometres of them by hand with just a shovel and a few bags of gravel.

No, I’m kidding, we don’t build roads. Apparently we built some bridges a while back, but that’s out of the ordinary.

Many of the roads in Congo-B have not been maintained in a long time. In a lot of places the rain has washed them away completely. We’re about 140 km from the capital, Brazzaville, and the trip can take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours, depending on the weather.

For MSF, the camel caravan, horse-drawn carriage, and steam locomotive in all our operations is the Toyota Landcruiser. The Landcruiser is a bit like an SUV, but it can actually drive over mountains in real life, not just on TV.

Driving over mountains is not quite as straightforward as it looks in SUV commercials (and, after the first hour, a lot less fun as well). Even with vehicles that are designed with this kind of driving in mind, things tend to bend, break, puncture, overheat, and fall off. A lot of things. All the time.

So keeping our Landcruiser fleet healthy and happy is a major preoccupation here in Kindamba. We depend on them to move staff, patients, spare parts, equipment, medication, food, and fuel.

All this driving over mountains also depends on highly skilled drivers, and ours could easily win the Paris-Dakar rally if they weren’t busy with MSF. (That doesn’t mean they speed, they just drive very skilfully).

These are a few of the things that keep us busy in logistics here at MSF Kindamba. There’s also sorting, storing, distributing and tracking hundreds of different drugs and medical supplies, digging pit latrines, changing light bulbs, tackling knife-wielding assailants, mending bamboo fences, fixing computers, and attending meetings. Lots of meetings. But let’s save some things for later.