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Hanspeter Stöcklin
Sr. Management Consultant
GS1 Consulting

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Delivering aid supplies to the right places with the help of GS1

The United Nations relies on GS1 standards in its refugee assistance work to improve aid distribution. UNHCR has designed an "end-to-end relief chain" which uses GS1 standards to improve goods flows and simplify control.

There are more than 60 million refugees worldwide: war, persecution and natural disasters have driven them from their homes. This is the highest figure since the second world war, and is almost equivalent to the population of France. Aid reaches about two thirds of these people from UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency founded in 1950. UNHCR focusses on supplying people with core relief items such as tents, blankets and kitchen sets. The effectiveness of the aid provided is heavily dependent on efficient logistics.

Humanitarian logistics operate under special conditions. There are no "normal" trade routes and transport conditions depend on the political or security situation. Logistics information often contains errors and must be laboriously checked and corrected. An ERP system is only useful as far as the local UNHCR warehouse, with IT only rarely used for the last mile. This makes humanitarian logistics expensive: swallowing up to 80 percent of the costs of humanitarian aid missions. Better, more efficient logistics processes can make large savings possible, freeing up funds for more beneficial purposes.

UNHCR has therefore designed an "end-to-end relief chain" using GS1 standards. This allows continuous goods tracking from the provider of aid supplies to the recipient. Many GS1 standards are used in UNHCR's new "end-to-end relief chain". All locations, such as suppliers, main warehouses, distribution centres and distribution points, are given a Global Location Number (GLN). The "core relief items" – tents, kitchen sets, blankets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting and buckets – are identified with a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). The trading units and logistics units are also given a GTIN.

Notably, recipients also have identifiers: households are allocated a Global Document Type Identifier (GTDI) and individuals a Global Service Relation Number (GSRN). The data carriers for all of these standard codes are the GS1 DataMatrix and the GS1-128 barcode. These measures have made it possible to track aid supplies as far as the recipient.

UNHCR is making end-to-end use of GS1 standards with clearly defined objectives: to make transport processes in the aid chain more transparent; to increase the quality and scope of information flows associated with the supplies; to improve the accountability of all the parties involved and the capability of the entire aid chain.