Logistics: Impossible without support from local people

As the team race to respond to the wreckage of Typhoon Haiyan, an MSF logistician reflects on the vital role played by local people

One of my first priorities here in Ormoc was to find a warehouse to store our medicine, watsan [water and sanitation] equipment and items for distribution.

This needed to be done fast because the first cargo was planned to arrive a few days after my arrival and our mobile clinics were desperately waiting for supplies.

Luckily my logistic coordinator in Cebu gave me a contact number of a man called Herme who told him he might have a location for us.

This person was a local business man who was very determined to help us in any way possible. The warehouse he had in mind was an old bowling alley which was partly flooded because the roof was blown off by “Yolanda”. But after a few days of repair and using buckets to remove all the water it turned out to be the perfect place for our goods. Herme also helped us getting permission from the port to off load our goods which were coming by ship for free!

After two days we were more or less ready to receive goods in our new warehouse. Now we were in big need of equipment like trucks and forklifts. This time it was Brenda the administrator of the local hospital who helped us.

Information on exactly how much cargo we would receive, what kind of transport (plane or ship) and at which time it would arrive was scarce and changed constantly. But Brenda was always motivated to get a truck or forklift even if it was really last minute.

Sometimes we were really desperate, like on a Sunday evening when we needed to offload a truck and all the other forklifts in town were busy or the operators were attending the evening mass.

My assistant and I ended up in front of a big gate of a construction company. The guard told us that they were closed and the owner had gone home for diner but he didn’t mind going out to find him. After half an hour he came back with the owner, we explained that we are working for MSF and that we were expecting a medical cargo that needed offloading and if we could use his forklift. He didn’t hesitate at all and said that he normally never rents out his equipment but we could have it for free as long as we needed it!

In general the Filipino people are just happy that people from other parts of the world come to their country to help them. They seem to be very optimistic and very motivated to recover as soon as possible. Around the city more and more banners show up with texts like: “roofless but not hopeless” “Big thanks to all foreign aid workers” etc.

What I realized again is that for all our work and especially for logistics we could hardly do our job without local people helping us. Even a few days after the disaster when people are still in the middle of rebuilding their houses or even are looking for missing family members they don’t refuse to help us to do our jobs.