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Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind

December 12th, 2022

Inclusion in Disaster Response and Relief: Reimagining ‘Last Mile’ Coverage as a Social Process

2 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind

December 12th, 2022

Inclusion in Disaster Response and Relief: Reimagining ‘Last Mile’ Coverage as a Social Process

2 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Examples from across South Asia show that despite efficient and workable disaster relief processes being in place, most fail to cover the ‘last mile’. Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind argues for values of social equity and justice to be integrated into logistical interventions, which can in turn subvert institutional forms of discrimination while responding to disasters.  

 

Humanitarian supply chains are driving forces that provide immediate rescue and relief to affected population groups after disaster events, or amidst complex emergencies. Logisticians work in harsh and uncertain environments to ensure aid distribution to vulnerable groups stranded in disrupted geographies; ‘last mile’ coverage is fundamentally important in these contexts.

‘Last mile’ may be broadly understood as the last leg of the relief supply chain that caters to survivors and beneficiaries impacted by disasters and crises. Canonical global policies such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals call for enhanced logistical capabilities to ensure better response in emergencies with an ultimate aim to leave no one behind.

The idea of ‘last mile’ is central to enterprise logistics and is grounded around principles of transportation efficiency enabled by coordination amongst, within and between stakeholders even as technology plays a vital role in last mile connectivity. Within this framework, ‘last mile’ is understood as a geographic category, the last leg of the supply chain where goods and services must reach consumers. Over the years, the argument that competencies of private sector logistics may be borrowed and applied to disaster logistics has gained a lot of traction to achieve this intended target.

However, ground-level experience suggests that within the agendas of disaster relief supply chains, the ‘last mile’ must not be restricted and dealt with only as a geographic category.  It is necessary for humanitarian logisticians to frame questions of the ‘last mile’ beyond geographies isolated because of disaster events and ‘disconnected’ from transportation networks. Instead, the ‘last mile’ must be thought of as a social category grounded in humanitarian values as well.

For instance, as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the world, homeless groups in India were routinely excluded from relief measures even as relief policies in several Indian states remained silent on the issue. According to the 2011 Census, Mumbai has a homeless population of over 57,000 persons; within this group, women and young girls are at extreme risk of trafficking or arrests under the Bombay Beggary Prevention Act. Homeless groups continue to remain excluded from various relief schemes. Even in large cities that are deemed to be geographically ‘well connected’ to logistical pathways during emergencies, vulnerable groups such as homeless persons often remain outside mainstream relief interventions.

Studies on the recurring and infamous Kosi floods of Bihar (India in 1987, 2008 and 2013) show that women are routinely excluded from relief programmes as these interventions regard men as heads of households. Women’s names are rarely listed as beneficiaries in lists prepared by panchayats even though they are the most affected — especially without information or early warnings about floods, and inaccessible relief leading to lack of food, water & medicines.

Families adversely impacted by disaster events lose crucial identity documents that are necessary to access governmental relief. After the 2015 Nepal earthquake, studies conducted in Kathmandu with nearly 500 female-headed households revealed that nearly 24 per cent of the women lost property papers, and over 49 per cent had lost their citizenship certificates. The question is: how can humanitarian logistics transcend such challenges and still aspire for ‘last mile’ coverage? If the ‘last mile’ were to be envisaged as a social category, the embedded processes would be cognisant of existing social vulnerabilities and identity-based burdens on account of caste, class, gender, indigeneity, persons with disabilities and other marginalities who habitually get excluded from relief processes.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network has published disturbing revelations on caste-based discrimination in humanitarian response in the aftermath of any devastation, with items necessary for survival such as food, water, medicines and temporary shelter. Following the 2010 floods in Pakistan, lower caste groups were denied access to relief camps, while in Sri Lanka, caste-marginal communities were denied emergency rations.

Evacuation logisticians also encounter existing gender roles and stereotypes that negatively impact evacuation behaviour. Often women and children are left behind in evacuation operations as they are either waiting for male approval or are providing childcare and/or care for the elderly. In Bangladesh, cyclone strikes such as Sidr in 2007 or Gorky in 1991, the female mortality was a lot higher.

As evident, when large historically marginalised groups are excluded even within a geography marked as ‘responded’ by interventionists, the ‘last mile’ has to be recast beyond geographical parameters.

Are we asking logisticians to solve problems of abject neglect in post-disaster relief that are attributable to existing social structures, institutional forms of discrimination, governmental overlook and political neglect?

The answer is No. Instead, the argument is that sound humanitarian logistics practices that embrace an ethos of social inclusion, and integrate values of social equity and justice into logistical interventions can subvert institutional forms of discrimination. The recognition that failures of logistical reach are not entirely geographic but social will be a first step in remedying the denial of rights within spaces that may even be geographically well connected to decision-making centres. Such reimagined humanitarian logistics can truly enable an ethos of leaving no one behind.

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of the ‘South Asia @ LSE’ blog, the LSE South Asia Centre or the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Banner image © Shefali Lincoln, 2020, Unsplash.

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About the author

Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind

Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind is a novelist and a feminist research scholar. She currently teaches at the Centre for Disasters and Development, Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her research interests are in the areas of gender, development and disasters, gendering sustainability and social exclusion, climate and disaster risk management and mitigation.

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