Award-Winning Study Explores How Best to Dole Out Supplies in Wake of Humanitarian Crisis

According to UNICEF, more than three million children under the age of five die annually from severe malnutrition. What’s more, hunger affects approximately 20 million children around the globe. During a humanitarian crisis, such as child hunger, the focus is on making sure people receive the necessary supplies they need. It’s critical that organizations, such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization, have inventory on hand available at a moment’s notice but it’s also imperative for those agencies to be able to acquire and deliver goods efficiently and effectively.

A new study, soon to be published in Production and Operations Management (POM), enables humanitarian organizations to determine the optimal amount of budget to be earmarked for local country offices, as well as for emergency response. It also determines the corresponding inventory of goods both in local country offices and in a central hub, so when there is a need, the organizations can provide more rapid and efficient responses to developing humanitarian crises.

According to Burak Kazaz, Steven Becker Professor of Supply Chain Management at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, one of the study’s authors, despite the additional $8.2 million raised after a 2008 hunger emergency in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the long delays in raising such funds and acquiring ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) caused an additional 8.4 million people to suffer from malnutrition.

“Humanitarian organizations need to develop efficient budgeting, procurement and logistical plans for inventory planning for its local country offices,” said Professor Kazaz. “But they also need to reserve some funds for rapid response and emergency shipments.”

The research was the recipient of the best paper award from the 2016 POM Society’s College of Humanitarian Operations and Crisis Management and it is particularly beneficial for humanitarian organizations in their budgeting, inventory acquisition and logistical planning against humanitarian crises.

“Academic studies often focus on maximizing profit, or shareholder value, in determining the optimal levels of inventory but this one is much more challenging because the costs involve human lives,” said Professor Kazaz. “There is no better feeling than knowing our work and expertise in procurement and logistics can actually help save human lives.”

The study was co-authored by John H. Park (Pepperdine University) and Scott Webster (Arizona State University).