Delivering Water Filters in a War Zone: Solving Logistics in Ukraine
Delivering humanitarian aid effectively during an active war is no small feat. Many organizations raise money without any way of actually delivering to people in need. Not us. The Water for All logistics team just returned from Poland, where they spent a week laying the logistical groundwork necessary to ensure that every filter donated reaches a person in need inside Ukraine.
Our Mission: To Establish Immediate & Long-Term Pathways for Filter Distribution in Ukraine
It was just a few weeks ago that we launched our campaign to provide Water for Ukraine. Although we had responded to humanitarian needs and natural disasters of many kinds in the past, never before had we tried to navigate a water crisis amidst an active war! How were we going to get water filters into the hands of people who needed them deep inside the constantly-shifting landscape of Ukraine ? What resources and partners would we need? Who could we trust? We knew that if we were going to do it right, we had to get boots on the ground immediately to solve the complex logistical issues, establish the key relationships and create a dependable system for deployment. So our Water for All logistics team boarded a plane just days later and hit the ground running.
Many Organizations are Raising Money, Not Many are Following Through in Ukraine
Our team landed in Poland--a main hub for humanitarian aid into Ukraine--and immediately drove to the border of Ukraine to gain an understanding of the situation first-hand. We visited three border crossings and talked with many of those serving refugees there. What we learned right away is that while the whole world is talking about helping in Ukraine— and many organizations are raising money—its a brave few who are actually on the ground, risking their safety, actively deploying goods, building networks in Ukraine, and ensuring supplies reach the needy wherever they might be. Those who are doing it well have become key conduits for moving aid across Ukraine.
We made it our mission to discover these diamonds in the rough. Amidst all the war profiteers, evil-doers, frauds, and well-intentioned but wildly ineffective folks we encountered (and we encountered a lot!), it was these “keystone” people and orgs we were determined to discover and partner with to ensure the success of our mission into the future. Praise God that He guided us to the right ones on this trip!
We Established Relationships and Partnerships with the Right People to Ensure Filters Reach the Needy
Our team spent most of the trip racing from one city to another, meeting with people and organizations to determine the absolute best strategy for WFA. In total, we were in 6 different cities/towns, visited 3 border crossings, saw 5 warehouses, and met with multiple contacts for distribution discussions. By the end of the trip, we had solidified pathways for future filter deployments all across Ukraine into areas of greatest need through partnerships with some amazing organizations who have built sophisticated and adaptive deployment networks.
These include well-known humanitarian entities such as Convoy of Hope, Operation Blessing, YWAM, and Youth for Christ. It also includes Ukrainian government agencies, logistics companies, warehousing operations, local Ukrainian community groups, military contacts and paramilitary groups operating under the radar.
There's No Magic Bullet! Effective Deployment Requires Detailed Planning, Key Partners, Multiple Steps, Accountability Feedback Loops
The first-hand knowledge and relationships we gained in-country changed many of the assumptions, expectations and hopes we had prior to arrival. While this is almost always true of being “on the ground”, we found it to be especially true in the chaotic and ever-changing landscape driven by war. First, no one organization has aid distribution into Ukraine “figured out”. All are learning, growing and evolving on-the-fly to accomplish their own very unique missions in different areas of Ukraine. Some are farther along in their learning/excellence than others, but most we met with had value to offer. Therefore, we came away understanding that it will take multiple partners working in concert at different stages of logistics and distribution to succeed.
Second, almost all major organizations delivering aid to Ukraine were operating out of headquarters in Poland, with tactical forward operating bases (FOBs) and contracted distribution networks operating inside Ukraine. Poland is the constant and serves as the main “trunk” of the distribution tree. FOBs are set up in the safest/least-affected areas of Ukraine, and serve as large limbs from the trunk. The delivery routes into Ukraine, which are like the small branches and twigs, are constantly changing and shifting as they adapt to the crisis. They may sprout today and be gone tomorrow, or they may grow and add new offshoots themselves, depending on the ever-shifting landscape of the war. Therefore, we determined that the best strategy was to create a deployment solution for WFA that begins through 3-5 “trunks” rather than 20-40 “twigs” of this tree, offering more reliable flow-through while allowing perpetual adaptation at the point of final delivery.
By the time we left, we had a sophisticated logistical framework and deployment map established, and we can now state with certainty that all future shipments of our filters will get into the hands of people who need them most!