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Cyclones Idai and Kenneth highlight need for rapid logistics solutions

Climate change poses dual challenge for logistics providers

cyclone idai and kenneth

Devastating cyclones in Mozambique so soon after each other have left severe humanitarian and infrastructural challenges in their wake – and highlighted two contradictory challenges climate change poses for the logistics industry.

On the one hand, logistics must limit the impact of energy derived from fossil fuels and coolants if it is to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, while on the other it must ensure goods and services are delivered to people – especially in the most extreme of circumstances. 

For our part, we are accelerating our “Going green with DSV” projects and solutions, all of which are designed to reduce our negative impact on the environment. We want to be part of the solution in achieving our common climate goals, from customers who are willing to reduce emissions through smarter planning and implementation of technological innovations to legislators who are willing to enact market-wide rules and regulations that we must all follow.

Most importantly, we need to assess the potential dangers of climate change and put in place measures to counteract them.

The cyclones – along with more erratic and severe weather patterns around the world, spreading deserts, rising sea levels and warmer temperatures – suggest climate change could make life less predictable and heighten the risk of damage to infrastructure and assets. 

Accelerating urbanisation in less developed parts of the world puts increased pressure on often inadequate infrastructure, while those in remote rural areas are easily cut off during times of crisis – and all this creates the conditions for a “perfect logistics storm”.

Of course, it is not just moving people and emergency goods, but a need to continue to serve customers, and all are affected, from mining and retail to manufacturing and tourism.

Our experience in Mozambique and to a lesser extent in Malawi and Zimbabwe raises red flags. Cyclone Kenneth struck while the country was trying to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which had devastated many parts of Beira, and killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. More than 1,600 were injured, and more than 4,000 cases of cholera were reported. The numbers are likely to keep rising for some time as the full extent of the cyclones becomes apparent, particularly in the more remote rural areas.

In Zimbabwe, the homes of at least 4,000 households were destroyed or left uninhabitable and the livelihoods of over 270,000 people affected. More than 850,000 people were affected in Malawi, with an estimated 87,000 displaced.

While DSV evacuated its facility in advance of the eye of the storm hitting, and so avoided any harm to staff, early lessons suggest Africa is not adequately prepared for cyclones, particularly of the magnitude of Idai and Kenneth, or other significant consequences of climate change. 

Ports, airports, railway lines and roads are often badly hit or temporarily disabled during cataclysmic storms, and yet they are the most needed infrastructure
in a crisis. 

Looking ahead, the siting of facilities and the manner of construction will need to be assessed to ensure durability during the most testing of times. For now, in terms of existing infrastructure, we need to examine how facilities can be better sealed and strengthened to resist a storm.

Technology needs to play a greater role in detecting damage to infrastructure which may not be visible to the naked eye, and road and railway routes may need to be re-evaluated and new routes considered against a new set of criteria. Airports and ports need to be able to withstand severe storms, and ports need protection against raging seas.

Our response to Idai and Kenneth was multi-faceted. Our priority was to deliver food, water and first aid materials to our employees and their families. We also contributed to the overall relief effort across the region: we donated funds to the Danish Red Cross and seconded one of our employees to assist with logistics operations at their facility in Copenhagen, and we supported the transport of emergency equipment to where it was needed in the affected region. 

More importantly, perhaps, we restored our operational capability as quickly as possible to ensure our customers’ goods continued to reach their markets. We are operating from another warehouse, and in Beira we were offering a full supply chain solution, including transit warehousing, unpacking and re-packing of cargo, transit port clearance and transport solutions into the hinterland regions, which includes Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

For now, it is business as usual. Going forward, our greatest challenge is designing logistics solutions which overcome less than perfect infrastructure and the impact of climate change.