The current crisis is laying bare the strengths and weaknesses in our global supply chains and readiness to get emergency relief items to those who need them most. The Australian Government has long recognised how vulnerable the Indo-Pacific region is to “external shocks” (what humanitarians call the natural disasters, conflicts, and economic swings that can increase poverty and cost lives) and sees itself as a leader in responding to these shocks internationally.
In practice, this has meant that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has had to stay at the ready by strategically pre-positioning relief supplies, and maintaining standing arrangements for immediate access to air, sea, and land transport across the region.
“In an emergency response to a sudden crisis, there isn’t always time to approach the market and ask suppliers to develop complicated proposals or ideas,” says Peter Diplas, head of Palladium’s Humanitarian Logistics team. “When people are suffering or require shelter, they need immediate assistance. What’s required is a rapid mechanism for pre-approved, pre-vetted support.”
For DFAT, this support comes in the form of the 5-year (2018-2023) “Provision of Humanitarian Logistics Capability Services” contract, held by Palladium.
“Essentially, we act as the procurement arm on behalf of the Australian government,” Diplas explains. “When a rapid response is needed, our team of experts have already done the due diligence. We have agreements with a broad range of pre-vetted suppliers that cover likely scenarios designed to complement the Australian Government’s existing stockpile of relief items. We coordinate with the Australian Defence Force, the United Nations, NGOs, and others, and stay ready to respond.”
DFAT calls this mechanism “a critical tool” for Australia to provide “best-practice humanitarian response”.
Ongoing vs. Emergency Response
As the provider of DFAT’s humanitarian logistics, many of Palladium’s activities are broken into scalable service orders, which are issued on an as-needed basis.
For instance, planning and coordinating with DFAT’s operational partners (such as the ADF) and maintaining warehouses of relief supplies are ongoing tasks between emergency operations. The contract also contains a “Logistics Operations Services” component for the procurement of relief items, which includes sourcing of specific technical supplies and equipment, and deploying those supplies to where they are needed.
DFAT issues a service order to mobilise Palladium for every such task.
“Right now, it’s about PPE (personal protective equipment) and COVID-19 Country Kits – packages of relief supplies for healthcare frontline workers that are tailored to this crisis and can be on their way within hours of DFAT’s call,” says Diplas.
Thirty Years of Support
Diplas, who joined Palladium through its acquisition of HK Logistics in 2015, has dedicated much of his life to humanitarian emergency response.
“We’ve proudly done this work for the Australian government since 1987,” he says. “At the end of every contract, we review, evolve, and present the most effective solution for the next 5 years. This current iteration took effect in 2018 and focuses in many ways on the technical expertise required. Humanitarian logistics is more than just moving a widget from A to B.”
While DFAT administers this contract, the deed is held by the Commonwealth of Australia, which means that any Australian government agency can use it to procure and deploy supplies in an emergency.
“Governments across the globe are being inundated with offers from suppliers who are seeing this global pandemic as an opportunity to get a foot in the door, many with promises that at the moment cannot be realised. The Australian Government established this contract to ensure a reliable, flexible, transparent, and cost-effective mechanism for relief supplies to reach the people who need them most.”
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