During my research for our group presentation this past week about disaster and humanitarian relief aid, I came across a case study focused on humanitarian aid in Chad. Instability in Chad came to the forefront of international news with the media focus on violence in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, in 2004, and the increase in refugees that fled into Chad. The international exposure for the crisis resulted in a rapid increase in volunteers, private and public donation, and, consequently, a more chaotic issue. The World Food Program (WFP) attempted to establish a commodity tracking system referred to as COMPAS as a response to the influx of aid and donations that were being sent into the country.
The first stage of COMPAS, as expected, encountered a few problems. Many workers within the WFP were not open to the idea of a new, more advanced system – spreadsheets were a more simple way to track data. It also became a struggle for some workers to use COMPAS due to language issues. In order for the system to work long term, WFP hoped to integrate local workers. However, the majority of the population in Chad spoke French or Arabic, and the COMPAS system manual was written in English. Furthermore, only five days of training was offered to the workers who, at the end of the introductory course, often felt unprepared to properly use the system.
Commodity tracking is extremely important for an organization such as the WFP, and a failed first attempt did not mean the end for COMPAS. WFP realized that simply introducing COMPAS into the regional offices in Chad was not enough: it had to be integrated and accepted by everyone in order for it to be a success. The first step was to “dissolve existing networks”; meaning the possible use of reverting to old methods of using spreadsheets had to be completely eliminated. Changes were made to the language of the manual to better suit the workers, and the training course became more comprehensive and included language and IT lessons to complement the use of COMPAS.
COMPAS is an example of the kind of back-office aid system that is vital for humanitarian disasters. While some may wonder what the WFP was doing in Chad, as its efforts were not directly visible, it can be argued that their work introducing the COMPAS tracking system was one of the most significant contributions that could have been made in such a scenario.
You can learn more about the World Food Programme’s presence in Chad at their country website.