April 08, 2007

DIHAD Conference and Expo 2007 (Dubai, 1st – 3rd April)

Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference and expo has become an important event in the diaries of procurement officials from NGOs, aid agencies and their suppliers. It used to be an important marketing event for Dubai Aid City before it was made part of International Humanitarian City (IHC). IHC’s primary aim is to cut crisis response times by offering facilities located strategically in the middle of aid needy regions.

Last year I went quite unsure of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at who the key note speakers were and the types of products on display. Sir Bob Geldof brought to a close what Jan Egeland officially opened. But, possibly for reasons of being an engineer, I was more interested in the products on show. Some were practical, functional and clearly useful in places like Darfur, Somalia, Iraq (War torn), Pakistan, Turkey (Natural disasters) and so on. Others were not so easy to digest and I couldn’t make out who they were targetting.

To simplify matters, there are two consumers of products procured by the aid agencies: victims (refugees, orphans, basically those in need) and the aid agency workers (including peacekeeping troops). The workers (apparently) need hi-tech equipment that cost a bomb (excuse the pun) and also need high quality shelter, vehicles, armour, weapons… you get the drift.
The victims on the other hand need basic essentials en masse: tents, blankets, cooking utensils, water (or access to clean water), medicines…

The products on show were wide and ranging: bullet-proof Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks and Land Cruisers, tents for refugees complete with built in cooking stoves (practical?), tents for peacekeeping troops complete with wardrobe and beds (5* hotel?), treated mosquito nets, pre-fab buildings, water harvesting and storage tanks, satellite communication systems…

This year it was shockingly quiet with exhibitors complaining of paying exorbitant rates and receiving/entertaining almost no external visitors or procurement officials. The poor website design and little publicity was probably due to the decision to incorporate Dubai Aid City into the International Humanitarian City. Dubai Aid City had been a strong supporter of DIHAD but somebody forgot about that!

So the products were pretty much the same as last year with some exceptions: interesting energy/power provision solutions using solar panels and wind turbines; water purification and filtration devices including reverse osmosis methods and chemical tablets. Toyota made their impressive presence felt again with a 2 ton armoured Land-Cruiser capable of withstanding destruction from land mines. My pick of the lot had to be the coffins made for the ‘mass fatality market’ – it definitely takes guts to get into that kind of a product!

While products for Humanitarian Aid are necessary the problem of demand and hence stocking of products is the suppliers biggest dilemna. The suppliers are trying to earn their bread and butter from these products that don’t have a consistent demand. And when there is demand, there is not enough of it the world over to supply it (Pakistan earthquake and the sudden demand for refugee tents being the most recent example). This has an effect on the pricing as suppliers try to commercialise the products. Unfortunately the people who make the pricing and procurement decisions don’t realise the differences between the two types of consumers and where these products will be used. Suppliers need to become more realistic and re-analyse their payback periods on certain products – you cannot charge European prices for products that will be used in Africa – especially if you’re trying to commercialise/commoditise it. Suppliers also need to focus on core competencies and remember that disaster relief is the most uncertain of markets. Hence seek to diversify?

If any consultants want to suggest solutions to these problems I’m all ears…

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