A crucial factor in quickly getting supplies into disaster areas is having them available for transport in the event of an emergency. This is why in the aftermath of two devastating earthquakes that struck Syria and Türkiye on 6th February, UNICEF mobilised pre-positioned life-saving supplies in-country and from Global Supply Hubs for children and families affected by the tragedy.
Due to favourable geographic proximity, Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC) has been a key location for pre-positioning and dispatching UNICEF’s emergency supplies. Far from the Emirate’s skyscrapers, 3,000 m² of warehouses serve as a humanitarian hub in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Inside, thousands of pallets hold items such as water and sanitation kits, hygiene supplies, High-Performance Tents, tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans and much more – the essentials needed to survive in the aftermath of a disaster such as an earthquake.
“Speed is of the essence when a disaster strikes,” said Patrick Adler, Logistics Specialist, UNICEF Supply Division. “We needed to get working right away, identifying the most important supplies and booking flights to transport them into both countries.”
The warehouses UNICEF operates in the IHC site side by side with storage facilities managed by other UN organisations and NGOs. Being in the same location as partners helps with emergency coordination, ensuring specific supplies are selected to meet the urgent needs of children and their families. The warehouse complex is generously provided by IHC, under the umbrella of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to support rapid response to crises across the globe. UNICEF also benefits from humanitarian air bridges organised by the IHC.
UNICEF’s initial focus was ensuring people could access safe drinking water and sanitation services. Pre-positioned supplies were immediately mobilised in-country and from UNICEF’s Global Supply Hubs. In Dubai, warehouse staff worked around the clock to ensure supplies were packed as quickly as possible and loaded onto trucks bound for the airport. Water and sanitation kits, water purification tablets, jerry cans, tents and blankets were loaded onto a charter flight to Damascus. Within 18 days of the earthquakes, UNICEF delivered 258 metric tonnes of vital supplies from Dubai to Syria and Türkiye.
The humanitarian effort did not just take place by air, but also by road. In Copenhagen, Denmark, UNICEF operates its Global Supply and Logistics Hub, home to the world’s largest humanitarian warehouse. From there, trucks carrying everything from health to education kits have made their way across Europe to the affected countries.
Beyond the earthquake response
The warehouse operation at the IHC is not the only storage hub for UNICEF’s emergency supplies in Dubai. Located 10 km away across the desert is another enormous warehouse which can store 50,000 pallets of supplies. The warehouse, generously donated free of charge to UNICEF by DP World, has played a central role in the global COVID-19 response, with syringes, safety boxes for their disposal, and personal protective equipment (PPE) pre-positioned and dispatched to meet the needs of countries.
In 2022, UNICEF shipped more than US$111 million of emergency supplies from both supply hubs.
“The importance of our Dubai-based facilities in the response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria cannot be overstated,” said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF’s global supply and logistics operations. “The geographic location and its proximity to the impacted region, our partners’ commitment to UNICEF, and access to well-connected transport routes enabled us to be agile and move faster to reach those in need.”
UNICEF also benefits from donated warehousing and/or air freight from other logistics partners, notably DHL, Flexport.org, Kuehne + Nagel, TUI and The UPS Foundation, helping to ensure life-saving supplies get to where they are needed.
Besides Copenhagen and Dubai, UNICEF has three other Global Supply Hubs in Brindisi, Guangzhou and Panama City. Together, the hubs contain sufficient emergency supplies to meet the needs of 250,000 people for three months, with stock constantly replenished to respond immediately to an emergency.
While every humanitarian crisis requires its own unique response, UNICEF’s network of Global Supply Hubs remains at the heart of efforts to get urgently needed supplies to children and families as quickly as possible.