The Role of Transparency in Humanitarian Logistics
Abstract: Human suffering has increased in recent years owing to increased intensity ad frequency of disasters. These are expected to further increase in the coming years due to climate change. Although natural disaster risks to humans cannot be completely eliminated, they can be minimized through efficient and effective humanitarian logistics (HL). Considering the importance of HL in reducing the impacts of disasters through fair distribution, this study aims to address the following question: “How can the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of HL be improved through transparency?” The primary data were collected through an online structured questionnaire from the employees participating in relief operations in Pakistan. This specific research model is reflective. Therefore, a covariance-based structure equation model (CB-SEM) based on confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) with SmartPLS software was used. The study tested the items’ reliability, discriminate validity, goodness of fit, and psychometrical soundness of the hypothesized model. The study results indicate that the relationship between predictor variables (disclosure, clarity, accuracy, corporate governance, decision making and accountability) and the response variable (effective HL) is mediated by public trust. Furthermore, the study suggests that public trust plays an imperative role in enhancing the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of HL. In addition, first, the study findings are expected to be beneficial for all stakeholders of disaster risk management, especially for governments, donors and humanitarian organizations (HOs), because they are persistently seeking strategies to assist victims. Second, most importantly, this study raises awareness of the need to carefully evaluate decisions related to the fair distribution of relief items. Third, the structure of this article reveals research gaps and promising areas for further research. This article provides a deeper understanding of transparency in HL using empirical data, which has not been explored before.
Disasters cause hardship and adversity for people , badly disrupt the functioning of a locality,
and lead to human, economic, material and environmental losses that are beyond the control of
a population’s ability by applying its own resources [2,3]. In the past few decades in developing
countries, more than 2 billion people have suffered due to climate-related hazards. Alone in 2010,
almost 385 natural disasters worldwide killed more than 297,000 people, affected over 217 million
people, and around 123.9 billion USD worth of assets were damaged . Similarly, in the four decades
from 1970 to 2010, in South Asian countries alone, 980,000 people died, and another 2.4 million people
were seriously affected. Assets worth 105 billion USD were damaged and around 1333 major disasters
struck in South Asia . There are hundreds more catastrophes that do not attract as much attention
but nevertheless have equally devastating impact. A major threat to South Asian countries is global
warming. Pakistan is ranked in the top 10 among the most vulnerable countries to climate-induced
Sustainability 2019, 11, 2078; doi:10.3390/su11072078 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
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disasters. Major natural disasters since independence have caused economic losses worth $29 billion
and killed approximately 113,000 people. As estimated, the country requires nearly $40 billion to cope
with the adaptation of climate change . Unfortunately, disasters will increase five-fold over the
coming 50 years in Pakistan [7,8]. Disasters cause causalities, disabilities and losses of assets that create
not merely financial problems for those affected, but also impact them psychologically.
In all stages of a disaster, logistics play a very important role in the success of humanitarian
relief. Holguín-Veras et al.  stated that humanitarian logistics (HL) is a very extensive field, and
therefore it is impossible to fit it into single definition. Rabta et al.  reported that HL, the technical
term, includes procurement, transportation and relief materials’ warehousing from the origin point to
the beneficiaries’ location. For a mixed array of disaster operations, HL is an umbrella term, which
covers both response and developmental phases of disasters . HL is one of the central activities
in a catastrophe. However, HOs have not yet recognized and defined this fact. It is also noted that
particularly relief agencies do not keep in their team a sufficient number of logisticians and also do
not provide a proper training to make them effective humanitarian logisticians . This indicates that
HL always has a lower priority within humanitarian organizations (HOs), despite being a factor that
can determine the success or failure of disaster relief operation (DRO). Even though, the participation
and cost of logistics account for almost 80% of relief operation . Hence, efficient disaster relief
supply chain (SC) is imperative because logistics serve as a bridge between disaster preparedness and
response, between distribution and procurement and between field and headquarters.
The resources shortage and competition for funding raise the significance of transparent HL .
Information sharing in logistics leads to an increase of organizational capital and effectiveness and
efficiency of DRO . Globally, both profit and nonprofit organizations and firms are under increasing
pressure to be more transparent. Donors are the most important stakeholders with the greatest power
in HL . They are motivated by the specific purpose of providing funds to the HOs to reduce disaster
risk. If the utilization and performance of resources are poor in any organization, the donors can
discontinue funding. The donors want to have greater transparency, visibility and accountability .
Fair distribution of relief items is a sign of effective HL [15,16]. Effective HL can not only decrease risk,
cost and timelines, but can also save lives and reduce suffering. Hence, HL must be fair, fast and safe.
When relief help is a matter of life or death for those afflicted, some people are merely interested in
money and are not interested in helping the victims. Furthermore, all HOs want to help those affected
by disaster. But unwillingness appears due to a number of reasons, such as corruption and noninterest
of the government. Even, some governments hamper international humanitarian organizations (IHOs)
from work in order to receive bribes . The involvement of local people in the HL process is also a
hurdle in the way of fair distribution. Local influential people influence the humanitarian logistics
service providers (HLSP) to control the list of beneficiaries and favor some specific groups  in the
houses’ allocation  and add the name of their own well-wishers to the recipient lists during cash or
relief distribution . The elite’s homes are used as a distribution center. Therefore, logisticians are
distributing aid items according to the elite’s will instead of the needs of the victims . On the other
hand, due to financial shortage , and strong competition for funding, some HOs mostly focus on
fundraising but not on spending funds efficiently . In addition, HLSPs also offer bribes to the local
influential people to remain quiet regarding poor quality of construction and non-distribution of relief
items. Moreover, in DRO, distribution of unfair and low-quality products is a common phenomenon.
HOs sometimes unload trucks at night so that the public cannot notice the warehouse .
The case study of the Philippines Super-Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in November 2013 shows a
lack of transparency. As a good example of a lack of transparency and high-profile corruption, in the
Haiti earthquake the American Red Cross received half a billion US dollars in donations but built only
six houses and falsely claimed to have built houses for 130,000 victims . Furthermore, the flood of
2010 in Pakistan where only 43% eligible households truly got Watan cards [22,23] indicates unfair
distribution. Further, the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China, the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and the
Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 demonstrate a lack of transparency. The sex-for-food scandal in 2002
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in West Africa is a sign of corruption beyond financial corruption. Hurricane Katrina, and wars in
Afghanistan, Iraq  and Nepal are all examples of high-profile corruption and a lack of transparency.
The range of claims exhibit the risk of increased corruption and a lack of transparency, not only in
developing but also in developed countries.
The performance, efficiency and effectiveness of HL cannot be increased as a whole because
multiple situations arise depending on the intensity, location and type etc., of the disaster. It is
therefore vital that the HLSPs adjust, modify and reconfigure their HL by enhancing their performance,
efficiency and effectiveness to the situation arising from these calamitous events. All these aspects
lead scholars to think about the problem from various angles with the intention of making small
contributions to raise the effectiveness of HL. As noted, other factors that affect the human suffering
of survivors in the aftermath of disasters are the unfair distribution of resources due to a lack of
transparency. Therefore, the role of incorporating transparency in HL is being realized. Research
papers that have focused on transparency in other fields have mainly concentrated on the combination
of transparency and trust of stakeholders. Such models proposed by references [24–27] are formulated
to build trust and increase performance. The potential of transparency in HL and their positive impact
on HL effectiveness have therefore remained relatively unexplored. Hence, the key objective of this
research is to present a full picture of the need for HL transparency and how this can be achieved. More
specifically, the aim of the study is to address this question: “How can the performance, efficiency
and effectiveness of HL be improved through transparency?” In addition, the state of the existing
literature on transparency does not precisely specify how the construct should be conceptualized, how
it relates to managing public trust in the organization, or how organizations manage transparency
in terms of HL. Therefore, this study has three objectives. First, the literature on transparency is
incorporated across academic disciplines to extend a complete understanding of transparency in
structural dimensions and components. Second, the actual uses of transparency dimensions and the
components mediated by public trust are analyzed. Third, the importance of those determinants in
influencing the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of HL is examined. To fulfil these objectives,
this research adopts a covariance-based structure equation model (CB-SEM) based on confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA) with SmartPLS software was used.
This study argues that effective HL is determined by perceived public trust, whereas public
trust occurs through the proposed dimensions and components of transparency. The study findings
reveal that transparency enhances performance, efficiency and effectiveness through public trust in the
context of HL. Furthermore, the findings contribute to the existing literature in HL and pave the way
for further development in DRO. Research gaps are explored, and suggestions are made for future
research studies to advance more effective HL operations.
The rest of this article is organized as follows. Section 2 lays out the research theoretical model
and hypotheses. Section 3 examines the research methodology. Section 4 details the study analysis and
research findings. Section 5 discusses the contributions and scope for future research. Finally, Section 6
presents the study conclusions.