‘When was the last time we responded to a crisis call?’ asks Marie–Laure de Quina Hoff. ‘Yesterday. And we are preparing one consignment for South Sudan. That goes tomorrow.’

The logistics manager of the Dubai office of the IFRC is clearly busy. ‘We’ve just sent one load of stuff to Somaliland today. There’s a flight taking off from Fujairah probably right now with the consignment,’ she says.

With 17 million volunteers reaching over 150 million people across the world through 190 national societies, the IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network. ‘Apart from this we have the International Committee of the Red Cross whose mandate is to respond to humanitarian crises whenever there is a war,’ says Marie, offering a peek into the vast humanitarian network.

Before I can ask if the work of the two arms ever overlaps, she explains: ‘The IFRC mandate is to respond to natural disasters… so when such incidents occur we step in.’

To react efficiently and instantly, the IFRC has four warehouses including the one in Dubai located at different parts of the world – in Malaysia, Panama, Spain – stocked with a range of items that could be useful for victims of a disaster.

The fact that the IFRC was set up way back in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, the systems are very much in place and fine tuned to deliver help efficiently.

As soon as a disaster is notified, a fact team visits the place to assess the needs of the victims and lists all the items required. ‘We consolidate the lists into a mobilisation table and then launch an appeal with this table so we know what we need and we do not end up duplicating efforts,’ says Marie.

The appeal is sent to the Red Cross movement. ‘We have some funds so we don’t wait for people to donate to start buying and moving stuff to the needy. We use the funds to stockpile and start sending stuff to people as soon as the disaster occurs.

‘The mobilisation table is regularly updated and shared with the fact teams so they know what they will be getting,’ says Marie.

The IFRC official is all praise for the facilities at the Humanitarian City. ‘The Dubai office covers all of Middle East and Europe and Africa,’ says Marie. ‘From here we can ship out basic items of first response within 48 hours to 5,000 families which is 25,000 people. In two weeks, we can ship basic items to 15,000 families which means 75,000 people.’

How busy have they been over the year?

‘Very,’ says Marie. ‘Last year alone we made 187 shipments to 30 countries. That’s roughly one every second day. And that is from Dubai alone.

The IFRC office in Dubai ships only non food items or NFIs in humanitarian jargon. ‘We can help people in different ways,’ she says. Some of the items sent as soon as a disaster happens are tarpaulin and plastic sheeting and tools so the area can be cleared to put up proper shelter; blankets, hygiene kits such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, kitchen sets and tools to prepare food, buckets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets.

‘We also rush water purifying equipment because very often the water sources will be unclean,’ she says. The kits can provide potable water for 5,000 people a day.

Apart from this, the IFRC also airlifts a fleet of ambulances and patrol vehicles for disaster affected areas. ‘We have a facility here where we convert vans and cars into ambulances,’ she says.

She takes us to a section of the warehouse where around 2000 survival kits are sitting ready for shipment. ‘Each of these kits includes three blankets, one tarpaulin, one kitchen set of utensils and cutlery, one jerry can, a rope, soap, a radio for victims to tune into the news reports and a phone charger,’ she says. ‘This would be the first response rushed within 48 hours.’

At the moment there are 2,000 such kits ready for despatch.

Marie admits that the 2005 tsunami was a turning point in humanitarian efforts worldwide. ‘The aftermath of the of the tsunami and the large scale destruction it left behind led to a lot of reflection on how to manage a crisis,’ she says. ‘One of the most important advances in disaster management was the introduction of the mobilisation report – this ensured we don’t duplicate efforts and send in supplies which were not necessary or suitable to the region. Clusters were also put in place to better understand what other aid agencies were doing to prevent duplication.’

Marie who has a wealth of experience in the logistics and supply chain and has seen some of the worst humanitarian crisis in Chad, Nigeria and Tripoli among others, says that one of her most moving moments in her career was when she was part of the team in Congo. ‘Accessing really remote areas by creating a road and bringing food and water to the victims of the ethnic violence was extremely difficult but to see the joy on the faces of the people when they received eh aid was so heartwarming. It was more when we gave them seeds to plant so they could have food the next season. The smiles when you see them happy makes all the troubles worthwhile,’ she says.