Former HLA trustee Adrian Nance played a crucial role in the Cyclone Idai response in Mozambique and offers some critical lessons from the process.

When Royal Navy veteran Adrian Nance launched his disaster response company Wings Like Eagles back in 2007 in southern Africa, he knew he would be providing vital life saving service as the area was and still is prone to natural disasters.

So, when Intense Tropical Cyclone Idai hit on the nights of 14th to 15th March 2019, he was prepared. Having received warnings of the disaster three days prior, the experienced humanitarian was able to quickly mobilize from his home in the UK, and was already on the ground in Mozambique when it struck.

Nance is a former trustee of HLA – a role he played for seven years – who was instrumental in restructuring its governance and operations that turned it into a dependable association, which brings together the various actors in the humanitarian logistics sector. As such, he is well aware of the value such networks of different individuals and agencies with varying capacities bring to the response to disasters such as Idai. The private, public, and aid sector actors were all crucial to the successes of the Idai relief efforts, and the strategic approaches adopted on the ground certainly present some valuable lessons for the future. Nance notes in particular the need to utilize the resources immediately available, in the most efficient manner. “We had to get the helicopters in as soon as possible, so it was essential to find the people who were willing to pay to make this happen, while the clusters were yet to be activated.”

                                                                                                                   Nance found that his combined military and humanitarian experience was vital, but so was the broad range of skills brought in by various individuals and organizations, which included coordination efforts from the UN lead humanitarian agency OCHA and the World Food Programme. Additionally, reliable communication was fundamental to mobilizing resources and OCHA’s liaison efforts ensured that news of the disaster and what was being done, got out really quickly which helped to obtain even more help. Nance reflects that media coverage was outstanding in those early days, and it was remarkable that the Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi himself, visited the area almost immediately, and that the government was willing to provide the money that was needed to rent the first helicopters.

The aircraft used by Nance’s team was jointly leased by Wings Like Eagles and Mercy Air. With this in place, they were in Beira on the Saturday following the disaster. In addition to mobilizing resources,clearly outlining the necessary processes was also instrumental to the relief efforts, and Nance notes that it helped that they were immediately able to determine what aircraft had been made available, and what each operator was in fact able and willing to do, and to then divvy up the tasks accordingly.

As such, his team got going on distributing food, in particular the high-energy bars that are supplied to keep survivors alive, as most of them had been stranded in the water for three days at this point. However, efforts were hampered by the fact that it was still raining and so the distribution of aid turned into a life-saving mission with rescue attempts. A remarkable achievement of the Idai response is that an estimated 400 people in total are believed to have been rescued from the water, using these helicopters (Rescue South Africa was one of those early responders) over the course of the four to five days.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         HLA Chief Executive George Fenton who was also part of the response operation in Mozambique in April reiterated the value that Nance and the other operators brought especially as ground access to Beira remained difficult for several weeks after. He notes that as supplies were mostly transported by air, airport facilities and personnel were stretched and overwhelmed. However, the fact that the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) was not activated because emergency response operations were mainly related to cargo transport needs (as commercial options were available for passenger transport) did not exacerbate the situation further. Additionally, unsolicited bilateral donations (GIK) were stopped by the UN in order toreduce airport congestion, while WFP’s aviation unit was deployed to contract and manage UN helicopter operations and coordinate private sector air logistics. All these decisions and actions ensured that the operations were managed to the extent possible.

A number of countries who deployed military assets, including Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, Brazil, France, India, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Turkey, UKand USA need to also be commended for the vital contributions they made, he said.

“Prior to the arrival of UN teams, which was several days after the cyclone hit, air assets were coordinated by the chiefexecutive of the local non-profit Wing Like Eagles. Due to the success of this approach, coordination plans developed during this period were later adopted by the UN team (which would normally tend to focus only on asset tasking)” – George Fenton

Key takeaways

For the Idai response to get underway, it was important to solve the chief problem that often plagues such rescue operations, which is the inability to find funds to pay for helicopters to transport vital aid in time, and of course attempt rescue of survivors. In the case of Idai, the funds came fairly quickly, mostly from the Mozambican government itself and the UN.

Secondly, it is vital to have aircraft that are available to be leased. The southern Africa region had a number of charities and private sector actors who could provide this resource, so it was easy to secure the necessary number of aircrafts soon after the disaster struck. However, with various different agencies (including humanitarian frontrunners IFRC and MSF) arriving fairly quickly, it was of equal importance that they were able to determine how best to coordinate efforts such that the overall plan of the UN in this regard was executed. Nance believes that good planning should however have been activated much earlier (by the UN).

Thirdly, private sector involvement needs to be continually factored in, and as such having the right people who can coordinate thisis critical, in order to build alliances with different actors to put together a strategic proposition for the movement of cargo. This included in particular helicopter operators (tour companies, former Zimbabwean farmers, big businesses like oil and gas companies). In the case of the Idai response operation, it was actually the private sector that helped to keep the ports and airports open. Studying and learning from operations like Mozambique is therefore extremely valuable – particularly as the future of effective emergency response is increasingly about improved engagement of the private sector.

Despite all the successes, one thing however remained a major challenge. This was the inability to survey the situation critically to determine where people were and what their particular needs are at that time – whether it was to be rescued, offered food, or medication etc. A key task therefore for the humanitarian community going forward, is to develop ways by which such a determination could be made inareas such as Beira, where this could prove difficult. Fenton believes that needs identification and the sharing of information around technical requirements is key to effective private sector engagement in order to better build their contributions into the system to ensure that the help goes where it is needed. “The international aidsystem cannot cope and so there is a need to build knowledge and capacity among potential local humanitarian actors and aviation service providers”, he concludes.



Role of HLA

The Idai response underscores the necessity of the humanitarian logistics community, and the role that networks such as the HLA continue to play. Over the years, the HLA, through transforming itself into a well-regarded charity, ensures that it is then able to deliver on its core mandate in support of global relief efforts. This includes professionalization of the sector through knowledge exchange, facilitating access to training and common practice guidelines. Documenting lessons learned and using these to effect the necessary changes is integral to this core mandate. As such, this exercise – of reflecting on the response to Idai and making the findings available to the wider community – could help improve the organized response to the next disaster. Adrian notes in conclusion, “As important as it is to do the necessary things in those early days of the response, it is equally essential to take time after the process to reflect on what happened – which is, what do we learn and how do we apply these.”



Photo credit: Reuters