unctad.org | Smoothing the way for humanitarian aid: the UN’s life-saving ASYREC partnership
Smoothing the way for humanitarian aid: the UN’s life-saving ASYREC partnership
01 March 2018

How can we avoid customs red-tape when people are in deep need of help after a major crisis?

In the face of spiraling humanitarian emergencies around the globe, UNCTAD and the UN’s relief arm OCHA have partnered to develop a means to get urgently-needed supplies into crisis zones fast.

When it is up and running, which hinges on bridging an $800,000 funding gap, the so-called Automated System for Relief Emergency Consignments (ASYREC) will facilitate and speed up the processing of international relief in the event of crises, whether they are related to disasters or complex emergencies such as a conflict.

ASYREC is an add-on to the landmark Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), a pioneering computer-based clearance mechanism devised by UNCTAD in the 1980s and constantly updated to take advantage of new technology. ASYCUDA, which helps trade flow smoothly, improves revenue collection and reduces the risk of corruption, is now used in 95 countries.

“ASYREC is a tool of utmost importance to ensure that the humanitarian response to an emergency crisis is logistically efficient and effective. The ultimate objective being to save lives.”

explained Shamika Sirimanne, Director of the UNCTAD Division on Technology and Logistics. In order to do so, the new ASYREC software provides for immediate recognition of organizations involved in UN relief operations, and allows these entities to expedite imports of humanitarian relief.

In addition, customs authorities are enabled by ASYREC to have a more accurate overview of incoming relief consignments.

Delays at the border with customs or other formalities may be long in some developing countries at the best of times. “And when it comes to tackling a humanitarian crisis, the volume of cargo flights and ships docking may be 10 times larger than normal. That was the case after Typhoon Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – struck the Philippines in November 2013. A total of 710 relief flights and 33 supply ships arrived with aid for survivors,” explained Virginie Bohl, Emergency Relief Project Manager in the Emergency Response Support Branch in OCHA.

In a crisis, relief goods may be released many weeks too late, or even never reach the people in need. Even worse, relief goods may not meet the real needs to the population and end up being a problem for customs authorities.

In 2009, for example, 5,000 tons of uncoordinated medical supplies and equipment were donated to the Gaza Strip during a sharp spike in conflict. An estimated 80% of the medical items were not on Gaza’s essential drug list, including 100,000 flasks of cough syrup, while 65 essential drugs like antiseptics, antibiotics or painkillers and 90 types of disposables such as syringes or surgery tools were urgently needed. These donations continued to be a burden on health authorities even months later, posing problems for the import of other urgent relief activities.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the sudden influx of relief from all over the world to the capital Port-au-Prince created significant logistical problems and impeded the efficiency of the response operation. Among the unsolicited and essentially useless, donations were 10 shipping containers of refrigerators that had a voltage incompatible with Haiti’s, five containers of energy drinks and potato chips, and even tuxedos and wedding dresses.

ASYREC will help to mitigate these problems and better organize humanitarian operations. Around 20 vulnerable countries are potential deployment locations. Nepal applied to be the pilot country for the first simulation. The top countries on the waiting list are Vanuatu, Fiji, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Haiti, among the most vulnerable to natural hazards. Finance is needed to finalize the development of ASYREC, based on the detailed requirements established by UNCTAD and OCHA and validated by the Department of Customs and the humanitarian community in Nepal, and to implement it in multiple countries. Development and support costs are estimated at $800,000, and deployment at a maximum of $230,000 by country, according to ASYCUDA experts.

ASYREC was among the finalists in the 2017 UN Secretary-General Awards under the “Innovation and Creativity” category. This award honors staff “who have achieved exceptional results by thinking outside the box using creativity, innovative methods, and fresh perspectives to implement ideas or projects which improve our results or the way the UN works”. The 2017 winner was the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). 



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