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Q&A: Supply Chain Expert Burak Kazaz on Getting Aid to the European Refugees
Burak Kazaz, the Steven R. Becker Professor of Supply Chain Management in the Whitman School of Management and a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence, is an expert in global supply chains and managing uncertainty and risk. He is also “intimately familiar” with the terrain that the refugees currently fleeing Syria are trying to maneuver, having been born and raised in Ayvalik, Turkey, only four miles from the Greek island of Lesbos. Here he gives his expert advice on getting crucial aid to the refugees to enable them to survive the coming winter.
“As a person who is involved in moving things, I tell myself what good are we if we cannot help these people in the upcoming winter and the realities of this human tragedy,” Kazaz says.
Q. Define the size of the problem for us.
A. We have around 5 million displaced Syrian refugees at the moment; 2 million are in Turkey and the reports state that Lebanon has around 1.2 million. Jordan has another 600,000 and Egypt 150,000. This is already a big number. When they cross the northern border of Syria into Turkey, along the border there are many refugee camps. These are almost like mobile built cities because this is not a small chunk. Even the largest cities in this region, none are a million, so this is a significant population of people to add.
Q. How prepared have the surrounding countries been for this influx of refugees?
A. Turkey was good in terms of being prepared for earthquakes and some of the other natural disasters that happened in the region, so it was able to employ resources to create these mobile cities. That’s not sufficient because now you have to provide health care and nutritional needs particularly for women, children and the elderly. They are actually doing a good job. But that’s not the case everywhere.
Regardless of whether you are private, for profit, or not-for-profit, until you experience something very drastic you put it out of your mind. The point here is that nobody is prepared sufficiently for these types of tragedies and they are not prepared for first response, especially in Europe. You don’t see these kinds of natural issues in Europe. Austria, Hungary, as much as they might want to help, the governments are not prepared and don’t have things in place to provide shelter, heating, nutrition.
Q. How can we use the knowledge of supply chain management to improve the conditions for these refugees?
A. In tragedies of this kind, food delivery becomes an important issue, as does medical delivery. They are very highly correlated. If you fail on the food side, you are going to have problems on the health side. We have to work with private entities because they know how to deliver in those conditions. A government organization by itself will not have the know-how for this kind of operation.
Private companies are better equipped in the sense that they know who can deliver things. If you wanted to reach the most remote places in the world, you have to look at how Coca-Cola delivers its products to those regions.
A lot of private entities are helping in Turkey due to UN funding being cut. The founder of Chobani declared he will give 50 percent of his wealth to refugees. We need to look at generous people who will be willing to actually work and distribute necessary items for the refugees.
One entity can’t do it on its own. We need a collaboration. The UN would be able to provide leadership. They’ve done a very good job with malaria medicine in Africa, for example, and its distribution. They have an organization there specifically dedicated to Africa and malaria outbreaks. In the case of Syrian refugees, we don’t even have that. First would be to organize a specific group within the UN that will address the refugee challenges. They would probably have to partner with all these companies and private entities to make these deliveries.
Q. How will the upcoming winter affect the ability to keep the refugees alive and healthy?
A. In Austria and Hungary, we are going to have a very harsh winter. We might be looking at a huge human tragedy because we don’t have any kind of shelter for them. We don’t have anything in place. And beyond shelter you also have to provide heating. And there are other human aspects of this. For example, if there is a young girl who has not been to school for more than two years, that is considered to be a human rights violation. Now, we’re going to get into the issues of educating the refugees and providing sustainable life.
We might be experiencing one of the worst human tragedies in the world. When you look at the 2012 Charahi Qambar refugee camp crisis in Afghanistan, many people died, hundreds of children, because we couldn’t provide necessary goods to the region during the harsh winter conditions. I think we might be seeing a similar situation unless we really get serious about this.