OR Spectrum

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 673–698 | Cite as

Efficient stockpiling and shipping policies for humanitarian relief: UNHCR’s inventory challenge

Regular Article


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) establishes and maintains refugee camps to meet the needs of 34.5 million people affected by disaster or war worldwide. Like other international humanitarian organizations, UNHCR maintains central stockpiles which supply these refugee operations. Management at UNHCR seeks to improve the timeliness and quality of its disaster response subject to its budget constraints. We develop an inventory model to analyze the interaction between a stockpile and a downstream refugee camp or relief operation. We consider two inventory decisions: first, how to partition a fixed budget between stockpiling and shipping costs in order to best meet the needs of beneficiaries; and second, given the shipping budget determined by the budget partition, how to ship relief items from the stockpile to a downstream relief operation in an efficient manner. We solve for the shipment policy using dynamic programming, then determine the optimal stockpile size given knowledge of the optimal shipment policy. The optimization balances a key tradeoff: a larger stockpile is costly to procure and maintain, but enhances a humanitarian organization’s ability to respond to relief operation demands. We provide insights into shipment strategies and stockpile size. We also develop a spreadsheet model to help humanitarian organizations in their operational decision-making, leading to improved response to beneficiaries. Humanitarian organizations must use their financial resources wisely to carry out their mandates, and models of this type can help them make the best use of their limited response resources.


Humanitarian logistics Inventory management Spreadsheet model Supply chain 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Altay N, Green W (2006) OR/MS research in disaster operations management. Eur J Oper Res 175: 475–493. doi: 10.1016/j.ejor.2005.05.016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Apte A (2010) Humanitarian logistics: a new field of research and action. Found Trends Technol Inf Oper Manage 3(1): 1–100. doi: 10.1561/0200000014 Google Scholar
  3. Barbarasoğlu G, Arda Y (2004) A two-stage stochastic programming framework for transportation planning in disaster response. J Oper Res Soc 55: 43–53. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.jors.2601652 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beamon B, Kotleba S (2006) Inventory management support systems for emergency humanitarian relief operations in South Sudan. Int J Logist Manage 17(2): 187–212. doi: 10.1108/09574090610689952 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bonney M, Jaber M (2010) Environmentally responsible inventory models: non-classical models for a non-classical era. Int J Prod Econ. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpe.2009.10.033
  6. Bookstein A (2003) Beyond the headlines: an agenda for action to protect civilians in neglected conflicts. Oxfam International, UKGoogle Scholar
  7. Boyd S, Vandenberghe L (2004) Convex optimization. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  8. Brandeau M, McCoy J, Hupert N, Holty J, Bravata D (2009) Recommendations for modeling disaster responses in public health and medicine: a position paper of the Society for Medical Decision Making. Med Decis Mak 29: 435–460. doi: 10.1177/0272989X09340346 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Çentinkaya S (2005) Coordination of inventory and shipment consolidation decisions: a review of premises, models, and justification. In: Geunes J, Akçali E, Pardalos P, Romeijn H, Shen Z (eds) Applications of supply chain management and e-commerce research. Springer, New York, pp 3–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Harr J (2009) Lives of the saints: international hardship duty in Chad. The New Yorker, 5 Jan 2009, pp 46–59Google Scholar
  11. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2008) World disasters report: focus on HIV and AIDS. http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2008/. Accessed 8 Jan 2010
  12. Jönsson H, Jörnsten K, Silver E (1993) Application of the scenario aggregation approach to a two-stage, stochastic, common component, inventory problem with a budget constraint. Eur J Oper Res 68(2): 196–211. doi: 10.1016/0377-2217(93)90303-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jönsson H, Silver E (1989) Common component inventory problems with a budget constraint: heuristics and upper bounds. Eng Costs Prod Econ 18(1): 71–81. doi: 10.1016/0167-188X(89)90025-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lodree E, Taskin S (2009) Supply chain planning for hurricane response with wind speed information updates. Comput Oper Res 36(1): 2–15. doi: 10.1016/j.cor.2007.09.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McCoy J (2008) Humanitarian response: improving logistics to save lives. Am J Disaster Med 3(5): 283–293Google Scholar
  16. Mizushima M, Coyne J, de Leeuw S, Kopczak L, McCoy J (2008) UNHCR supply chain management: assuring effective supply chain management to support beneficiaries. Fritz Institute, San Francisco, CAGoogle Scholar
  17. Muckstadt J (1973) A model for a multi-item, multi-echelon, multi-indenture inventory system. Manage Sci 20(4): 472–481. doi: 10.1287/mnsc.20.4.472 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2009) http://www.unhcr.org. Accessed 20 Jul 2010
  19. Oloruntoba R, Gray R (2009) Customer service in emergency relief chains. Int J Phys Distrib Logist Manage 39(6): 486–505. doi: 10.1108/09600030910985839 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Porteus E (2002) Foundations of stochastic inventory theory. Stanford University Press, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  21. Sherbrooke C (1968) METRIC: a multi-echelon technique for recoverable item control. Oper Res 16(1): 122–141. doi: 10.1287/opre.16.1.122 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Talluri K, van Ryzin G (2005) The theory and practice of revenue management. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Thomas D, Griffin P (1996) Coordinated supply chain management. Eur J Oper Res 94: 1–15. doi: 10.1016/0377-2217(96)00098-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tomasini R, van Wassenhove L (2009) From preparedness to partnerships: case study research on humanitarian logistics. Int Trans Oper Res 16(5): 549–559. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-3995.2009.00697.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. United Nations Development Programme (2009) Human development reports. http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics. Accessed 8 Jan 2010
  26. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2009) Humanitarian reform in action. http://www.humanitarianreform.org. Accessed 8 Jan 2010
  27. Vidal C, Goetschalckx M (1997) Strategic production-distribution models: a critical review with emphasis on global supply chain models. Eur J Oper Res 98: 1–18. doi: 10.1016/S0377-2217(97)80080-X CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Zipkin P (2000) Foundations of inventory management. McGraw-Hill, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Management Science and Engineering DepartmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations