Coronavirus: World Food Programme harnesses data and tech to save lives

The Emergency Service Marketplace is a one-stop-shop for humanitarian partners in emergencies

World Food Programme
World Food Programme Insight


Ghana: A cargo plane with supplies for the UN field hospital in Accra touches down on 28 May. Photo: WFP/Michael Dakwa

By Vincent Matak

If delivering life-saving assistance to vulnerable people was a challenge before the coronavirus pandemic, then what do you do when international restrictions continue to fracture transport hubs and supply routes?

If you’re the World Food Programme (WFP), you provide the global humanitarian community with fast access to your vast array of supply chain services, including fleets of planes, trucks and ships. You harness real-time data to track shipments of critical health and humanitarian supplies such as ventilators and testing kits, ensuring they get to where they’re needed, when they’re needed.

‘Marketplace will power the entire community towards meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people during this crisis — and the next.’

As part of UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, WFP’s Emergency Service Marketplace does exactly that for sister UN agencies, NGOs and civil society organizations. The Marketplace is a seamless and integrated one-stop-shop for humanitarian partners to rapidly deliver supplies that are saving lives during emergencies.

WFP tracks shipments made in the platform, using leading-edge data integration software, powered by Palantir Foundry. This enables its powerful logistics network to securely deliver PPE and other vital health and humanitarian cargo to countries affected by COVID-19, via a network of humanitarian response hubs in strategic locations around the world.

‘It’s saving time and money for the humanitarian community when we can least afford to waste either.’

At the same time, WFP can use that software to pinpoint potential disruptions and transit closures impacting delivery, allowing it to anticipate problems and find quick solutions for items in transit. WFP can also assess critical risks like connectivity outages, disruptions in food production, medical supply shortages and travel restrictions in each country.

“With this hubs-and-spokes system now routing humanitarian and health cargo and workers to the front lines, the ability to anticipate disruptions and come up with evidenced-based solutions driven by data is critical to sustaining an effective humanitarian response,” says Amer Daoudi, WFP’s COVID-19 Corporate Response Director.

WFP tracks life-saving supplies with its leading-edge data integration software, enabling staff to pinpoint disruptions and find solutions to ensure speedy delivery.

Saving lives and resources with digital technology

Almost 90 humanitarian organizations have now registered on the platform to request WFP free-to-user services in support of their COVID-19 response efforts. 11,311 cubic metres have already been shipped to 85 countries across the globe, while 26,799 cubic metres of essential health and humanitarian supplies have been requested for movement to 136 destinations in the coming weeks — all via the Emergency Service Marketplace.

“Marketplace is saving time and money for the humanitarian community when we can least afford to waste either,” says Enrica Porcari, WFP Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology. “It will power the entire community towards meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people during this crisis — and beyond.”

The Emergency Service Marketplace is part of ongoing efforts by WFP to digitally transform its operations and help drive the humanitarian sector forward, leveraging the most innovative solutions to reach those furthest behind and to support partners to do the same.

“The secure and strategic application of digital technology helps us build one-to-one relationships with beneficiaries, as well as the partners and governments we work with to meet their needs,” says Pierre Guillaume Wielezynski, Digital Transformation Services Chief within WFP’s Technology Division, and co-lead of the development of the platform. “It not only lets us target and adapt the support we offer, but also empowers all stakeholders to make their own choices, whether that’s how to prioritize resources or inform policies.”

Health supplies at the Ethiopian Airlines’ cargo facility in Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport. Photo: WFP/Jenny Wilson

Expanding future services

Building on a pilot project, the services available in the Emergency Service Marketplace are initially limited to air, land and sea transport. Over time, Marketplace will expand to cover all WFP-provided services, cargo transport by air, land and sea, storage, procurement, emergency telecommunications, engineering support and more, facilitating response to all emergencies beyond COVID-19.

WFP has also established a dedicated service centre to provide support to humanitarian partners requesting services in the platform.

“It provides them with the flexibility and responsiveness to efficiently and effectively deliver on their programmes, now and in the future,” says Stephen Cahill, WFP Director, Logistics Service, and co-lead of the platform’s development. “We are proud to lead the charge in enabling the humanitarian community to continue their life-saving work in these uncertain and unstable times.”

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World Food Programme
World Food Programme Insight

The United Nations World Food Programme works towards a world of Zero Hunger.