The Battle to Deliver Aid into a War Zone

In a war zone, it’s hard to deliver aid to people who need it most. Same as with a natural disaster – earthquakes and floods – the donations pour in, but it is very difficult to effectively use those funds on the ground.

When you donate money to an NGO, some of it is eaten up in admin fees and overhead costs. Often, your donation doesn’t meet the purpose you intended because it is difficult for foreign organizations to identify and locate the people in need, let alone define their needs in a culturally appropriate/situation-specific way.

Then, it’s hard to get that aid to people. After it is delivered, organizations struggle to measure the impact which prevents them being able to focus the donations on areas of greatest need.

All this effort takes people. However, it’s difficult to find workers at short notice, especially when people are fleeing for their lives. Once people are hired, it’s still necessary to set up the systems and infrastructure (warehouses, vehicles).

We have solved all this. We just need donations to keep pace with our ability to deliver aid.

Our network of contacts is spreading organically like a spider web, reaching more and more people. We have the people, the vehicles, the warehouses, the suppliers. We just need donations to keep pace with our ability to deliver aid.

How Hungry For Life overcomes common problems

I’m currently in western Ukraine, working with Hungry For Life International. HFL is a humanitarian organization whose staff has over 20 years of experience working together all over the world.

In the table below, the left column lists common problems faced by NGOs. In the right column, I briefly outline how HFL has been able to overcome these obstacles in Ukraine.

Overhead costs and admin fees – most organizations have to take at least 15% of each donation.100% of every donation goes directly to Ukraine (how this works).
Most staff had to evacuateHFL staff live in western Ukraine and were able to stay in their home. Mary is Ukrainian and speaks the languages. Her entire extended family is helping.
Hiring qualified workers at short notice – it takes time to advertise job openings and fill positions.Refugees helping refugees: those who have escaped the “horseshoe” of war zones stayed here in western Ukraine to run the warehouse operations.        
Sourcing vehicles – rentals aren’t available, and there are almost no new vehicles to purchase. Importing and registering vehicles takes time, even before war.Foregoing the opportunity to escape, drivers are volunteering to use their own vehicles and source their own fuel to deliver aid into their own home communities in besieged areas.
Navigating destroyed, dangerous routes – driving into war zones is difficult and dangerous. Non-local drivers have difficulty getting in and out. Organizations are understandably hesitant to send workers into harm’s way.Local drivers know the back roads/fields and are in chat forums for the most up-to-date info. They will risk their life to get aid to their own community.
Identifying needs – people with disabilities, the poor and the elderly are not easy to find when you aren’t familiar with the community.HFL’s staff in Ukraine are connected to a country-wide, grassroots network because we’ve been working here almost 20 years with those in need. Ukraine doesn’t have the same social programs as Canada, but church communities are strong and connected to one another, and we are tapped into this rich network.
Sourcing supplies – many items are rationed so organizations can only order a certain amount every few weeks. Fuel was nearly impossible to get in quantities greater than 20L at the start of the war.HFL staff have relationships with local providers and have been able to go directly to the source and order regularly. We were able to get 1000s of litres of fuel so that deliveries were never interrupted.
Negotiating bulk prices is difficult for external NGOs, so they often have to pay full retail price. This is especially true when staff are not familiar with local customs and culture.Due to HFL’s local contacts, we can buy in bulk at half or sometimes 1/5 of the retail price. Mary grew up here and is a very convincing negotiator!
When we explained canned meat was for humanitarian purposes, we got 20% off wholesale price and were able to deliver 10,000 extra cans (each can 2-3 days’ worth of protein for one person)
We didn’t have to get our own refrigerated storage because suppliers allow us to use theirs.
Tracking aid to ensure it is delivered is a big problem during crises. Besides communications challenges, organizations have to guard against corruption and profiteering.We work with trusted agents we’ve known for decades. Photos, videos and written reports are taken at every node along the aid chain, to track where it’s coming from and where it was delivered. All uploaded to a central server.
Lack of available housing for refugeesConnections with a network of churches across the country has enabled HFL staff to coordinate shelter and food for tens of thousands of people.

One single hurdle remains

Financial donations are one challenge that large multinational organizations often don’t have. They are typically able to access funding from large companies and governments.

Although we are a relatively small NGO, Hungry For Life International has 20 years’ experience delivering humanitarian aid around the world. We have overcome every hurdle so far in the distribution of critical aid. In fact, other charities have recognized this and transferred the generous donations of Canadians to support our operation in Ukraine.

However, our ability to meet the exponentially growing need is being capped by the availability of funds.

When the war broke out, the donations we received could support thousands and even tens of thousands of people. But now there are hundreds of thousands, millions of people who cannot access food and supplies.

At the time of this writing, we are days away from emptying our warehouse in central Ukraine.

The Russian war strategy deliberately targets the civilian population to starve them into submission.

Help us fight back.

We have the warehouses, the vehicles, the drivers. Our incredible team in Ukraine are operating like seasoned veterans and North Americans have given so generously to this effort. But now we can’t keep up with the demand. We just need more money.

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