Some might think that humanitarian and commercial logistics are virtually the same, but this just isn’t the case. To begin with, commercial logistics focus on products whereas humanitarian supply chains focus on people and supplies. Aside from this, there are a number of differences between the two, such as:

Demand pattern

Commercial logistics have a demand pattern that is mostly stable with locations that are fixed and in quantities that tend not to change. With humanitarian logistics, the demand is much more unpredictable. Certainly in an emergency situation, the need comes from events that can’t be planned, their size and timing can vary wildly. The demand has to be decided once events and disasters occur and even then this is based on estimation.

Inventory control

Humanitarian supply chains can struggle with managing their inventory due to their fluctuating demands. They’ll have more stock in times of need but this could quickly run down after a disaster. Commercial supply chains are usually very well organised and can plan ahead for peak times when more products will be consumed.


Ultimately, the aims of both humanitarian and commercial logistics are very different, which affects their processes. Humanitarian services always aim to save lives and stop suffering, meaning if their disorganisation results in a higher cost-to-serve, it doesn’t matter. However, commercial logistics are all about maximising profits and keeping the customer happy, so products need to be shipped in a consistent, efficient manner to allow for cost-effectiveness and productivity to come together.

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