three trucks with human aid on it

The Do's and Don'ts when delivering humanitarian aid

“Expect the unexpected” is a cliché — but it’s also a reality in the world of humanitarian aid.

What does it take to ensure successful delivery of humanitarian aid?


When planning for the transportation of humanitarian aid, there are several measures involved in successful delivery. We’ll examine each measure below.

The importance of planning and logistics

While humanitarian aid can never be fully planned out ahead, there are cycles that actors can be aware of and plan for logistically. As the World Health Organization says, “Climate change is increasing people’s vulnerability to humanitarian crises. Infectious diseases are becoming more prevalent and harder to control, because of conflict, weak health systems, poor water and sanitation, and lack of access to vaccinations.” What does this mean? There is a degree to which we can plan ahead for disaster, or at least be aware of the issues the world will face in the coming years as a result of climate change, for example.


While we can’t predict which catastrophes will arise year-on-year, it is possible to have preliminary plans in place for the logistics of delivering humanitarian aid per region, or based on specific illnesses, for example. Contingency plans are always necessary, but some preparation is always preferable to starting from scratch when a humanitarian disaster strikes. 

Security considerations

Humanitarian aid is often needed in regions dealing with political instability, conflict, and terrorism. This means that security of all parties must be taken into account when planning for the delivery of humanitarian aid—especially as aid worker casualty rates are rising. Security is especially crucial in situations where actors might be actively seeking to stop humanitarian aid reaching civilians (in conflict rather than during an environmental disaster, for example). Measures to mitigate security risks could include convoys and escorts where necessary, and coordination with NGOs and international bodies already active in the region. 

Coordination with local authorities 

That being said, coordination with local authorities must not be forgotten: locals have unparalleled knowledge of the geography of the region, and can support logistics efforts distributing shipments of clothes, medicine, food, and other critical supplies on the ground. In a recent case where humanitarian aid needed to be delivered at speed in Sudan, the main Sudanese airport was closed. This meant that aid workers had to find another route to deliver 50 tons of humanitarian aid. With support from local authorities, the decision was made to deliver the aid by air to a neighboring country, and then via sea transport to Sudan. This required parallel lines of communication between different authorities and local contacts to ensure all stakeholders remained updated with the latest developments.

The team will make or break the mission

In high-stress, high-pressure situations, working—and communicating—with the right team is crucial. At GEODIS, we hold regular feedback sessions with our clients after missions are accomplished to share experience of what went well, and where we can improve. These conversations ensure that lessons are learnt from any obstacles we encountered, so we can plan ahead for future missions.

It’s also important to work both with a global network of specialists, and through partnerships with local actors. Global experts can provide a big-picture analysis of unfolding situations, which helps work out where and when humanitarian aid will be needed. Similarly, partnerships with local actors help find solutions on the ground, anticipate problems before they arise, and smooth over any in-mission bumps, as we saw in the Sudan example. 

Compliance: the missing puzzle piece


In the midst of the action that comes with delivering humanitarian aid, it’s easy to see how compliance can take a backseat. However, this is a critical part of any mission, and not ensuring compliance can jeopardize future support. Compliance is relevant both whilst transporting humanitarian aid, and when distributing it on the ground.

Ethical and financial integrity are central to any mission, particularly as humanitarian aid is often scrutinized by external parties. Introducing vetting processes for external agents is key to ensure they are ethically and financially compliant with accepted standards. This also applies to subcontractors. Humanitarian aid logistics partners will ensure the whole mission is compliant from A to Z. Having the right contacts, as discussed earlier, can also help ensure compliance with government authorities and documentation. Without this, teams can experience unnecessary delays with customs agents, for example. 



Teams who work in the world of humanitarian aid must be agile and adaptable, so they can jump into action as soon as the need arises. There is a large degree of planning which can be undertaken in advance. This can be achieved by getting the support of GEODIS acting as a global humanitarian logistics partner with either owned or external agents on ground, both experienced and compliant. While the adage ‘expect the unexpected’ is an overused cliché, it remains a reality in the fast-paced world of humanitarian aid transportation.


If you would like more information on how to partner with GEODIS to ensure successful humanitarian aid missions, visit this link

Jacob Horn

Jacob Horn

Head of Aid & Relief - GEODIS

Emergency and Relief Supply Leader with 18 years of experience doing supplies to emergency areas and war zones.