Challenges and opportunities for ULS at Covid-19 time

May 2020

Developing Universal Logistics Standards (ULS):

The first draft of the Universal Logistics Standards has been developed through working groups between December 2019 and early May 2020, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. This process has proven to be an opportunity to address some of the major supply chain and logistics challenges that this unprecedented crisis has caused, and that humanitarian logistics will have to face for years to come.

The COVID-19 outbreak has, rapidly, become a question of global health security, hence lockdown restrictions have been imposed in most parts of the world. As a result, supply chains have been greatly affected and, beyond the problems that arise in purchasing, transporting and distributing critical medical products, the context of the crisis within complex emergencies continues to evolve. Therefore, affected communities face a double threat that requires agile and effective supply channels.

Everyday humanitarian logistics and transport practice is now more challenging than ever, requiring a universal, coordinated response in key areas of logistics; these being covered by the ULS. For example, some constraints caused by the pandemic are:

  • At the procurement level, stock availability, sky-rocketing prices and the combination of poor information, quality and differing technical standards have put a strain on this vital part of the chain.
  • Warehousing, storage, asset and vehicle fleet managers face problems, primarily with ensuring hygiene, social distancing for staff and optimisation.
  • Transport is subject to movement restrictions on cargo due to border closures and a reduction in freight capacity that threatens lead-times.
  • In terms of distribution, delivery points for vulnerable groups in isolated places are particularly affected. Accessing assistance has become a risky and complicated activity.

These challenges pose very specific requirements to ensure quality and accountability of the humanitarian response. In this context, the ULS helps to define practical steps that can be taken to address such challenges, especially when many different organisations need to work together; each one with different programmes, practices, and capacities that, sometimes, can hinder coordinated action. In a situation such as this, common standards and good practice guidance also are of special interest for small organisations keen to improve the quality of their preparedness and response.

Open consultations, started in May 2020 to obtain feedback from the humanitarian logistics community, will allow the project to take advantage of the lessons being learned from the COVID crisis, and thus to incorporate further good practices in the following versions of the ULS.