UW News

August 11, 2004

Unlikely partners join forces to speed aid to world’s disaster zones

In days past, it was unlikely that UW students Justin Gale from Public Affairs and Kate Hulpke from the College of Engineering would cross paths during their graduate studies, yet yesterday they drove together through the upland savanna of northern Mozambique. The two were seeking out remote clinics to study how health supplies are delivered to rural people, many of whom routinely walk miles through difficult terrain to receive health care.

Gale and Hulpke are among the first wave of students from a new University of Washington program dedicated to reducing human suffering from disasters and emergencies around the globe by developing tools and techniques to help international relief workers.

To accomplish this, the project combines talents from two very different worlds: public administration and engineering.

Students and faculty from the two fields have joined forces in the new UW Interdisciplinary Program in Humanitarian Relief to figure out how to break the logistical logjams faced by international organizations such as CARE, World Vision and Mercy Corps.

The goal is to adapt the latest techniques in information technology and logistics to more quickly get medical and food supplies to victims in disaster and war zones, said Sandra Archibald, dean of the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs.

“It is very exciting to be able to apply these new techniques to the critical problem of emergency delivery of goods and supplies to people in need,” Archibald said.

The project was launched with the help of a $175,000 Innovation and Redesign Award from the UW Provost’s Office. The Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship at the Evans School directs the new program, in collaboration with the Center for Internet Studies and departments of Technical Communication and Industrial Engineering in the College of Engineering.

In addition to combining engineering and public administration, the new program combines academic expertise with the on-the-ground experience of relief practitioners to advance knowledge at the intersection of logistics, information technology and organizational management, said Denice Denton, dean of the UW College of Engineering.

“I am hopeful,” Denton said, “that through innovations developed here we may minimize human suffering caused by natural and man-made disasters throughout the world.”

This summer, teams of specially trained graduate students are conducting field research with local relief agencies in Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as Mozambique.

Gale and Hulpke are hosted by Seattle-based VillageReach.

In Kenya, Christina Maiers (Evans School) and Steve Kotleba (Industrial Engineering) are working in the Great Lakes and East Africa region on humanitarian supply chain management. They are hosted by World Vision, whose U.S. headquarters is in Federal Way, and are working closely with a recently formed interagency working group involving 16 major humanitarian organizations.

In Ethiopia, Dara Ayres (Evans School) and Margaret Reynolds (Evans School and Global Trade & Transportation Logistics) work on logistics, information and coordinated relief efforts. They are hosted by USAID and John Snow Inc. and are working with a host of non-governmental organizations in the region.

In addition, the Fritz Institute is partnering in the Kenya and Ethiopia efforts.

All this support is necessary because the students are working in some of the most needy areas of the world. In the East Africa and Great Lakes region where Maiers and Kotleba are working, for example, there are more than 8 million displaced persons and epidemics account for over 90 percent of deaths.

Before heading to Africa, each of the student researchers completed a course in Electronic Information and Supporting Systems in Humanitarian Relief. (Two additional IPHR courses are being added: Managing International Relief and Development, and Humanitarian Logistics, as well as new continuing-education courses for global-aid professionals.)

All this will enable the UW to start offering an interdisciplinary graduate certificate next year in International Humanitarian Relief and Development, designed to equip students from a variety of academic backgrounds (including engineering, public affairs, public health marine affairs and international studies) with the theory and practical tools needed to become effective professionals.

The Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship was named in honor of the late dean and professor of the Evans School. Lindenberg divided his career between service in international relief organizations and teaching and research. As the senior vice president for CARE USA from 1992-1997, Lindenberg led global programs in more than 36 countries.


For more information on the new interdisciplinary program’s African Research Projects, contact Professor Mark Haselkorn at (206) 543-2577 or markh@u.washington.edu  

For more information on the Marc Lindenberg Center, contact Elaine Chang, director, (206) 616-1607 or elainec@u.washington.edu