Surviving humanitarian crises: Expert discusses how to protect populations affected and make a lasting impact

There is no one single cause for humanitarian crises, and no simple way to anticipate how they will affect those experiencing them. Their impact on communities and populations is significant and multifaceted, often causing long-term damage that – without an effective resolution – lingers and festers, becoming much more difficult to mend.

Depending on the nature of the crisis and its severity, the right crisis response and planning strategies are required to keep populations safe, yet many of the countries that become affected or are at risk do not have the resources at their disposal to effectively manage potentially unprecedented disasters. And though many are able to rely on humanitarian aid to survive through these crises, there is more that aid and procurement agencies can do to support the long-term welfare of those who receive it.

Here, Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services, a company that provides procurement services in aid of those touched by humanitarian disasters worldwide, explores the challenges and complexities of humanitarian response and the most important factors in successfully navigating them.  

The causes and the impact of humanitarian crises

Armed conflicts and political unrest, environmental factors, disease outbreaks and natural disasters are some of the main factors influencing or leading to humanitarian crises, and causing extensive damage to populations, displacements and loss of life.

In many instances, it is countries who are already battling disease outbreaks or struggling to cope with the consequences of climate change that are hit by natural disasters or conflicts, creating a cycle of continued crisis that is almost impossible to break.

Conflicts escalating, or continued floods or droughts, for example, can easily lead to economic crises, with many not being able to access basic resources and being forced to rely on humanitarian aid, as is the case for 75% of Syrians after over a decade of war.

What’s more, the spread of Covid-19 took the spotlight away from ongoing life-threatening healthcare crises affecting millions in developing countries, as well as aggravating many of them, due to the increase in demand for health services as well as the economic fallout it brought on.

For instance, deaths from malaria, which had, before the pandemic, been steadily declining, rose again in 32 countries since its start.

Malaria, along with many other life-threatening diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, remains a substantial problem in developing countries, which already struggle to contain the spread and protect their populations. In this context, the Covid-19 pandemic serves as yet another example to show just how detrimental the occurrence of other triggers can be, whether these be natural disasters, man-made emergencies or virus and disease outbreaks.

For developing countries whose populations lack access to basic medical care and resilient health systems and where poverty and malnutrition are endemic, these triggers can escalate what are already precarious situations, turning them into fully fledged humanitarian crises.

Safeguarding the health and security of those affected

Many disregard just how many factors are involved in humanitarian crises – for instance, it is not just food and water that need to be provided as part of humanitarian relief missions, as emergency and diagnostic medical equipment become particularly important.

Pakistan’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, for instance, which was a result of catastrophic flooding, caused its population to be affected by the outbreak of waterborne diseases along with the destruction caused by the flooding itself.

Providing a ‘complete’ response requires adopting a bespoke approach that effectively covers the needs of those living through a humanitarian crisis, and when it comes to procuring the resources needed, many procurement agents fall short, being unable to deliver supplies quickly or being unprepared to deal with unexpected issues or complications along the way.

When those affected by humanitarian disasters are able to access the right resources promptly, such as emergency trauma packs and diagnostic equipment, issues such as disease outbreaks become easier to manage and contain, saving lives and increasing the chances of the survival of millions.

Effective procurement does not simply equate to procuring quickly, however. Being prepared to deal with all eventualities, managing funds effectively and establishing reliable partnerships within supply chains are amongst some of the main factors making a significant difference in the successful delivery of a humanitarian relief mission.  

Further, providing an immediate and efficient humanitarian response becomes easier when the procurement agents involved have access to localised commodities, a widespread international presence and a resilient supply chain, all of which ensure they are able to supply the right products at the right price, and in an ethical and transparent manner.

Breaking ongoing devastating humanitarian crisis cycles requires a commitment to changing ineffective practices and ways of thinking, and rethinking the way these are addressed. A chief part of this process involves partnering with procurement agencies that are capable and willing to operate with ethicality and transparency, ensuring the successful and cost-effective delivery of life-saving supplies.

Operating with ethics and integrity at the forefront, Unimed is a procurement agency leading change within the industry, with a mission to provide essential health products to populations in need worldwide. To learn more about Unimed and its services, please visit: