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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Understanding the role of supply chains in humanitarian response

Supply chain management has been heavily researched since the 1990s when competitive markets drove logistics to become leaner, more agile, and more efficient. Businesses strategically designed supply chains to maximize profits while managing risk. However, this calculated assessment of logistics operations was slow to be applied to humanitarian logistics. A lack of market pressure on the field reduced incentive to improve supply chain efficiency. Humanitarian supply chains are now decades behind commercial supply chains, still using antiquated practices. Meanwhile, the occurrence of climate-related disasters has doubled over the last 40 years, increasing the demands on humanitarian response.

Up to this point, research into humanitarian supply chains has consisted either of recommendations on standardized practices or the analysis of individual disasters. While important, standardizing recommendations is exceedingly difficult as each disaster creates a different set of challenges. This study contributes to existing research on humanitarian logistics by identifying the relationship between the impacts of a disaster and the subsequent opportunities for supply chain design. As disasters become more frequent and more severe, disaster logistics practices must become more efficient and effective.

This research classifies disasters by the post-disaster state of the critical infrastructure and population dispersion. This novel method focuses on the factors that influence the design of the relief supply chain. Hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes are compared according to these variables using 40 years of reported data on disasters. Understanding how the logistics strategies vary by different disaster characteristics allows for general supply chain strategies to be developed relative to disaster impacts. The work also analyzes the weekly distribution rates of relief supplies following the disaster’s impact, improving the understanding of supply chain demands following a disaster. Interviews with logistics managers from six different organizations validate the findings and supplement the results through recommended logistics practices. Subsequently, four disaster archetypes are presented.

The aggregation of both disaster impacts and relief demand produces an original framework for further analysis on humanitarian supply chain management. It identifies opportunities, challenges, and strategies created by different disaster characteristics. The results discuss how disaster archetypes can be used to design a more efficient and effective supply chain.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.