Following the devastating Cyclone Nargis on May 2, 2008, which tore through the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar leaving as many as 134,000 people dead or missing, DHL’s Disaster Response Team (DRT) was asked to manage a warehouse for nonfood relief items as a part of its humanitarian partnership with the UN.
A strenuous, three-week deployment followed that helped ensure desperately needed supplies reached their intended destinations – a very challenging job. Inadequate roads, transportation and communication problems, shortages of trucks, boats and forklifts and a host of restrictions imposed by the military regime posed substantial obstacles to relief efforts. Chris Weeks, Tim Allan and Raymond Leung each led the DRT at various times during the operation. Together with DHL volunteers they had to battle with these obstacles day in and day out. A total of 12 DRT volunteers rotated into the deployment, working 12 -14 hour days in high temperatures and relentless humidity. The deployment concluded on Thursday June 5 and the DRT handed-over operations of the warehouse to Ever Flow River Ltd. (EFR), a leading local logistics company.
Monika Wulf-Mathies, Corporate Public Policy and Sustainability, expressed her gratitude to the DRT and all who supported their efforts: “Thanks to your commitment, skills and energy the DRT was able to help thousands of people. Your efforts ensured that vital supplies reached the survivors of Tropical Cyclone Nargis quickly. You delivered help!”
“Although we weren’t delivering directly to beneficiaries, we were helping those who did by managing a critical part of the supply chain,” explains Chris Weeks, DHL’s Humanitarian Affairs Director, who was on his fifth disaster relief mission and third with a DRT. Up to five aircraft would come every day loaded with relief goods like kitchen sets, drinking water treatment plants, generators, blankets, plastic sheeting, tents, and mosquito nets. The goods would be offloaded at the airport onto trucks and sent to the common warehouse managed by DRT.
They had to get the supplies offloaded onto pallets, neatly stacked and counted. Then when the NGOs had organised transport to take the goods to the Delta, the team had to reload their trucks.
This work enabled the UN and NGOs to focus on their core tasks and let the logistic experts make sure goods got from point A to point B. “Recognition from the UN itself that ‘Firms perform some functions more efficiently than the UN can’ was a major breakthrough for the future,’” explains Weeks.
The benefit of the deployment was not just in helping the people in need. It also engaged employees by enabling them to use their expertise in times of need and actually go to the disaster area to help. Volunteers from Malaysia, Bangladesh and Singapore took part in the effort. Ibrahim Yusof from Singapore was one of them. The logistics and warehousing expert was on his first DRT mission: “It really makes you appreciate what you have. Safety is paramount for us, but the people we worked with in Burma did not have this luxury, they just worked and worked, even in their flip-flops. So we did the best we could to ensure they paid attention to safety aspects.”
Monika Wulf-Mathies commented on the importance of employee volunteerism: “This DRT deployment perfectly demonstrated how well employee engagement and collaboration can work within the Group. Moreover, the deployment was a perfect example that our global UN partnership is the right vehicle with which to engage in humanitarian and CSR activities worldwide.”