Humanitarian logistics in conflict zones and complex emergencies



In recent years defence politics and strategies in most advanced countries have changed from primarily dealing with homeland defence to focus more on multinational operations such as UN mandated peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations. Conflict and violence are currently on the rise, with many conflicts today waged between non-state actors such as political militias, criminal, and international terrorist groups (UN, 2021). Unresolved regional tensions, a breakdown in the rule of law, absent or co-opted state institutions, illicit economic gain, and the scarcity of resources exacerbated by climate change, have become dominant drivers of conflict. However, as noted by (Altay et al., 2021) “By and large, however, the discipline has still ignored the area of conflicts, wars and complex emergencies”.

The importance of supply networks and their ability to support humanitarian aid operations in conflict zones and complex emergencies has come under increasing scrutiny. In doing so, it has been recognised that the key factors which determine the movement of goods through such networks operating in stable situations may not be the same as those which affect rapid response in circumstances that are unfavourable to stable operations (Tatham and Pettit, 2009). As observed by (Kovacs et al., 2019) “There are, however, some hurdles to overcome to be able to collect empirical data, including: a lack of access to disaster areas and conflict zones; ethical questions about collecting data from vulnerable people; security considerations when handling data from conflict zones”

The regionalisation of conflict, which interlinks political, socio-economic and military issues across borders, has seen conflicts become longer, more protracted, and less responsive to traditional forms of resolution (UN 2021). A significant number of questions need to be addressed. What impact has a conflict zone or complex emergency have on humanitarian logistics? Most humanitarian aid is not, delivered in stable environments. Rapid response, damaged physical and communications infrastructure, lack of transport, poorly functioning government, the presence of many injured and traumatised individuals, looting and pilfering, and the threat of violence all contribute to unstable conditions in which these networks have to operate.

Research themes

We invite conceptual papers, qualitative or quantitative analysis research, and case studies that reflect established and/or emerging insights into conflict zones and complex emergencies of those involved within the field of humanitarian logistics. In doing so, we would welcome contributions across a wide range of issues, including but not limited to:

  • Access to beneficiaries
    • Mechanisms to circumvent Anti Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) to reach population.
    • The humanitarian space (neutrality, impartiality): what trade-offs when humanitarian logistics depends on protection from, and the goodwill of an active armed part
    • The logistics of convoys, including security considerations
  • Access within the conflict zone and complex emergency
    • People – Local/International
    • Supplies
    • Transportation
    • Local sourcing in conflict zones
    • Import/export restrictions
    • Freedom of movement of logistics personnel
    • Custom clearance
    • Political considerations
    • Coordination in country between NGOs / communication with government
  • Provide aid in conflict zones
    • Cash distribution in conflict zones
    • Supplies distribution in conflict zones
    • Medlog in conflict,
  • Protection of civilians / aid workers
    • Evacuations – Afghanistan
    • Investigate how a host nation supports the population in areas controlled by rebel groups
    • Investigate how freedom fighters support the population in geographical areas under their control
    • Women, peace & security (WPS) from a logistical perspective
    • Kids
  • Crime in humanitarian logistics
    • The issue of black markets and the informal economy
    • Trafficking and slavery as workforce in the supply chain
    • Looting of supplies and logistics resources
    • Corruption at all level
    • Securing convoys
  • Methodological and ethical issues when doing research in conflict zones. 
  • Sudden impact vs long-term efforts. Longitudinal studies; from immediate response to recovery. Transition from armed conflicts to stability and how the logistics systems evolve.

Submission information

Submissions to this journal are made through the ScholarOne submission system. Please visit the author guidelines for the journal before submission.

Guest editors

Prof. Graham Heaslip, Galway Mayo institute of Technology, Ireland and Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland [email protected]

Tore Listou, Norwegian Defence University College, Naval Acdemy , Norway, [email protected]

Per Skoglund, Swedish Defence University, Sweden, [email protected]

Ioanna Falgara Sigala, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland, [email protected]   


Altay, N., Kovács, G., & Spens, K. (2021). The evolution of humanitarian logistics as a discipline through a crystal ball. Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print).

Kovacs, G., Moshtari, M., Kachali, H., & Polsa, P. (2019). Research methods in humanitarian logistics. Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, 9(3), 325–331.

UN 2021 accessed on 10 September 2021

Tatham, P., and Pettit, S., (2009), "Special issue on developments in humanitarian logistics", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 39 No. 5.