This August, I’m working in Cairo, functioning as an Information Management Officer in the Logistics Cluster for Libya. The Logistics Cluster, led by WFP, coordinates logistics support for the humanitarian community in emergencies. It is basically a group of organisations working together to improve the effectiveness of relief response. In every Cluster there’s someone who takes care of information management; keeping track of all actions and situations and feeding them back into the right channels. And that’s what I’m doing for the Cluster operations in Libya, although until now it has been more like trying to figure out the importance of information, written in a language I don’t understand (yet).
In the few days I’ve been working here, I’ve come to understand more about the basics of a logistics operation than in the years I’ve been doing communications at TNT. In corporate communication, I hardly ever deal with the operational side of the business, but here I’m part of it. I’m starting to get a hang of it, but things are complicated by the UN language, of which acronyms are the biggest issue. It’s not just the hundreds of humanitarian organisations with each their own capitals (IOM, USIP, UNHCR…), it’s shortening everything possible to three or four letters. I mean, why writing down ‘without warehouses’, if you can also state it as ‘w/o w/h’? And why saying something ordinary as ‘no news’ if you can also say it with ‘NSTR’ (nothing significant to report)? But if you give me two more days I’ll be talking like the lot of them.
Our office is the basement in a building that also houses the WFP Egypt country office as well as the North Africa regional office. When the troubles in Libya started and the Cluster had to set up shop, the only empty place left to them was the basement. If you forget the fluorescent lamps, the defective air-conditioning and the smell, it works quite well. The Cluster boss sits in the basement kitchen, with his back against the sink and the fridge and headphones on his ears to drown-out the droning noise of the generator. This, together with the massive maps on the wall illustrating transport, hubs and flights into Libya and amidst that people from a dozen different nationalities working together, makes this office a pretty fascinating place to work.
I’m going to leave you with a logistics riddle told to me by Riaz, the Cluster lead, see if you can solve it:
A man has to bring a lion, a goat and a basket of flowers to the other side of the river with his boat. The man can only have one of the three, not two, not all three, just one, on his boat per ride. He doesn’t have access to any other items then the boat, the goat, the lion and the flowers.
How does he get them all across the river, without the goat eating the flowers, or the lion eating the goat?