5. Transport


  • Identify what supplies or people need to be moved and to where.
  • Identify feasible, available transport options, requirements, route and schedule planning.
  • Arrange contracts with transport providers.
  • Ensure insurance terms are included.
  • Check that an ‘Incoterms’ has been included at procurement stage for goods requiring international transport.
  • Ensure all appropriate transport documents are in place.
  • Ensure appropriate controls are in place at sending and receiving stages.
  • Follow appropriate customs procedures where transportation involves international movement of supplies.

The logistics team will need to organise international and national transport options for the relief operations. Transport is the link in the logistics chain that ensures humanitarian assistance reaches its destination.

The supply chain usually involves different stages of moving goods with different transport options required at each stage, such as:

  • bringing relief supplies into the country
  • moving people
  • moving relief supplies from main warehouse to secondary warehouses or distribution points.

Getting emergency supplies from their point of origin to their final destination involves the combined use of different means of transport over air, land or water. Transport is also categorised as either national or international.

The logistics team must ensure that supplies reach their destination, safely and on time. Transport planning for relief operations must therefore consider the best option for getting supplies from one place to another and identify alternative means, methods and routes to counteract any identified risks associated with the primary means of transport.

When deciding which means of transport to use, consider:

  • How urgently are the supplies needed?
  • What types of supplies are being shipped?
  • How large and heavy is the shipment?
  • What distances must be traversed?
  • The cost (in consultation with the budget holder).

There are four principal modes of transportation for delivering supplies: road, air, maritime (coastal, inter-island, river) and rail. The tonnage that can be transported, speed at which that happens, and cost per ton for transportation are interrelated and should be kept in mind when making decisions on which mode(s) to select.

5.2.1 Characteristics of different means of transport

Type of transport Characteristics Advantages Disadvantages
Air (airplanes)
  • Urgent need
  • In case of emergency
  • No other way to reach the area
  • High value low weight freight
  • Starting up large-scale operation
  • When there are no other means
  • Quick and reliable
  • Can reach far-away areas
  • Makes it possible to come closer to the area of operations
  • High cost
  • Depending on size of plane, cargo capacity may be small
  • Subject to weather conditions
  • Requires special fuel and safe conditions to operate
Air helicopters
  • Much more versatile than planes
  • Can land in difficult areas
  • Has limited cargo space
Land (motor vehicle)
  • Use depends on the physical and safety conditions of the access routes to the delivery points
  • Within a region or country
  • Highly flexible
  • Inexpensive and readily available
  • Given its availability, cargo space increases
  • Routes might be in bad shape, impassable or simply not exist
  • May be dangerous (floods, armed conflict, bandits, etc.)
Land (rail)
  • Use depends on existence, route and conditions
  • Not used much
  • Large load capacity
  • Operating costs are generally low
  • Limited network
  • Need to use other transport to take the supplies to the warehouse or operations sites
Maritime (sea)
  • Large lower value freight, less urgent
  • More and more used during the second phase of a crisis, whenever possible
  • Used mostly for transporting supplies from abroad
  • Need access to a harbour or pier
  • Large load capacity
  • Economical
  • Slow
  • Need to use other transport to take the supplies to the warehouse or operations sites
  • Useful for supplying riverside and nearby communities with moderate amounts of aid, for moving people or supplies in the event of a flood
  • Low cost
  • Access to areas hard to reach by other forms of transport
  • Limited load capacity, depends on size of the vessel
  • Use depends on the characteristics of the river and waterways
Human and animal
  • Small loads, generally in remote areas where vehicles can’t reach
  • Low operational cost
  • Access to difficult areas
  • Limited load capacity
  • Slow

When planning and managing road transportation of supplies to programme sites, consider:

  • available routes and their conditions
  • possible trans-shipment points
  • constraint on routes such as weight limits on bridges
  • potential security risks to personnel and goods
  • usability of the routes year-round, given the different weather conditions
  • telecommunication facilities between key points along each route
  • the type, capacity and cost of fuel and maintenance facilities
  • time for the return trip on each, including loading and offloading
  • possible bottlenecks on each route, and potential solutions in terms of cost and time to resolve number and size of vehicles required

5.3.1 Formula to estimate the number of vehicles required

  • How many tonnes must be moved, and by when?
  • How long will the vehicles take to bring a load from the delivery point to the reception point and return? Do not overestimate the speed, and include loading and unloading time.
  • Add 25% extra time for contingencies.
  • What load capacity do the vehicles have?

Number of possible trips per vehicle =               Period in hours      
Duration back and forth


Number of loads =                            Total number of tonnes
Vehicle capacity


Number of vehicles =                              Number of loads              
Number of possible trips/vehicles


  • This table is based on the weight of the load. However, you must also take into account the volume of the load.
  • If vehicles of different load capacity are used in the operation, the estimate should be recalculated for each vehicle.

If supplies are going to different destinations, each destination requires its own calculation.

Once you’ve decided on the means of transport to be used and supplier (according to the budget and the level of urgency), you will need to negotiate and draft contracts with transporters.

The contract must include:

  • name and address of transport company, and details of the vehicle
  • unit price of transport (usually per tonne per km, or per truck per km) unless it’s a daily rental.
  • When a daily rental is used, negotiate driver, fuel & repair coverage (it is better to include it)
  • the total price (inclusive of tax and any extras)
  • terms of payment
  • exact loading address
  • address of destination and contact person
  • details of clearing agent if needed
  • itinerary
  • description of the articles to carry (volume/weight)
  • insurance or liability for damaged goods
  • delivery note and packing list.

A general principle for transportation is never to pay for the service in advance. Payment is done when the freight has arrived and the contents checked.

When deciding on the terms of the contract for road transport, consider the options in section 5.4.1.

5.4.1 Transport contract modalities

Modality Advantage Disadvantage
Trip charter (per vehicle per journey) You will have the exclusive use of the vehicles The carrier might not be interested in filling each vehicles to its maximum capacity, thereby multiplying the number of trip

The size of the vehicle might not correspond to the size of the load

Trip charter (by the tonne or tonnes/km) You pay for the transport of the goods regardless of the time the trip takes or whether the truck is full

The cost of the service is clearly agreed upon from the start

The carrier might decide to transport other client loads

The driver might use less direct route to add kilometres to the bill

Time charter (per vehicle per day) You have the exclusive use of the vehicle, and it is usually the best option for short trips The carrier might choose to take it easy on each trip

In the event the truck needs repairs, the daily fee might still be applicable unless stipulated otherwise in the contract

For international transportation, insurance is imperative. International transportation agreements define maximal liabilities for carriers that can be far under the real value of the goods. Therefore, insure or ask for insurance of the freight from insurance companies. In volatile situations or high risk zones, insurance of vehicles, cargo and 3rd party should be considered.

The inclusion of an ‘Incoterms’ should be done at the procurement stage and agreed with the supplier. Incoterms are a set of international rules, issued by the International Chamber of Commerce, for the interpretation of the chief terms of delivery used in foreign trade contracts. Incoterms define the rights and obligations of the seller and the buyer with respect to the:

  • party responsible for packing, transport, insurance, transport, handling, customs
  • party that pays for the above mentioned activities
  • transfer of the risk (at which point and time the risk passes from seller to buyer).

Annex 15.4 Incoterms

Ensure that appropriate transport documents are provided and accurate.

5.7.1 Transport documents required

Delivery note or waybill
The delivery note is the fundamental tool for transportation. It defines transportation freight details and responsibilities. The delivery note is an internal document that has an official value; potential deductions on the final payment are based on the information on the delivery note (see Annex 15.5 Waybill format).

Freight notice
A freight notice is an internal email or fax that immediately informs the consignee of freight details (content, estimated time of departure and arrival, details on the documentation, and method of expedition of the documentation).

Transport letters (air waybill, bill of lading, rail consignment note, international consignment note)
This is the transport document for goods with a legal value. The name will vary according to the transport mode. Only the consignee mentioned on the bill or an authorised representative can release the goods.

Invoices, pro forma
The invoice indicates the value of the goods. When no money was paid for the goods a pro forma has to be prepared. The value indicated will be the basis for custom declarations and insurance policies.

Cargo manifest
A cargo manifest mentions the type of goods, their origin and destination.

Packing lists
The shipment should contain a packing list. The packing list identifies the contents of each carton or parcel. The packing list facilitates delivery control.

Gift certificate
When the organisation is exempted from import taxes, a gift certificate states that the goods are part of a non-profit effort.

Origin certificates, phyto-sanitary controls
Some items (drugs, food, etc.) need additional documents for international transportation.

Hazardous materials declaration
This document, normally with a red border, has to be included when the freight contents require special care, handling or testing (for example, insecticides, laboratory reactants, purification products).

Tax exemption certificates
In some countries, general agreements have been established for ‘exempt’ organisations, which simplify the formalities of free entry. In other countries, each consignment must be certified separately. Getting the necessary documents can take some time.

Before sending the supplies:

  • the sender has to make sure the packaging is strong enough for transportation and handling
  • the sender and carrier (or representatives) have to be present during the loading
  • for contracted transport, the sender has to carefully verify the identification of the carrier and registration of the vehicle
  • the sender has to prepare all necessary documentation before the loading
  • all this information has to be mentioned on the delivery note.

When receiving a consignment:

  • check the documentation (delivery note, external order form or purchase order)
  • check the quantity and quality (damaged goods, strange smell or aspect, torn parcels, etc.)
  • notify the transporter of any discrepancy
  • send appropriate receiving documents to the sender
  • ensure proper records are kept of all transport operations
  • keep clear and well-documented files on all ongoing transport operations and archives.

International shipments enter a country through a seaport, an international airport or a land customs point. Countries control the flow of their imports and generate revenue through customs inspections, duties and taxes. Government customs agents will not release imported goods until all duties are paid or a customs exemption certificate is provided. If clearance action is not taken promptly, goods may be held in a ‘bonded’ warehouse and accrue storage charges.

In some specific cases when a state of emergency has been declared, the local authorities can grant free access with simplified custom procedures to import relief items for a determined period of time.

Generally, customs clearance can begin once the shipping documents arrive. Having the correct documentation in place before the consignment arrives allows quicker clearances, with minimum expenses. Required documents vary between countries and requirements may change.

The CO or emergency logistician should stay up to date on changing documentation and procedure requirements, including responsibilities and routing of supplies. To avoid unnecessary delays and costs, the procedure should be well documented, with a clear understanding of handling costs and other fees.

It is highly advisable to contract a clearing or forwarding agent to handle the complexities involved in receiving and clearing international consignments. Forwarding agents usually provide the most comprehensive service, including transportation services to carry the goods from the port to the final destination.

5.9.1 Import restrictions

Check import restrictions before sending an international order. Some commodities may not be permitted or may require special documentation (for example, food products, drugs, telecommunications equipment).