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View the documentSUMA: A Tool for Transition in Haiti
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SUMA: A Tool for Transition in Haiti

International sanctions against Haiti were lifted in October 1994, and supplies and equipment donated by the international community, but on hold due to the strict embargo, began arriving at the Port-au-Prince airport. Shipments would come from the ex-patriate Haitian community and from governments supporting President Aristide's return. The logistics of unloading the planes, distributing supplies, and ensuring that the donors and Government were kept informed, promised to be time- consuming and confusing.

The Constitutional Government was aware of the negative image that scenes of uncoordinated handling of emergency relief supplies would project. Wishing to have access to the donated supplies as quickly as possible, the Ministries of Health and Planning expressed interest in installing SUMA, a computerized relief supply management system. The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UN/DHA), which was coordinating the international response in Haiti, requested PAHO's support in Implementing SUMA. A team of volunteers from the Caribbean and Latin America traveled to Haiti to get the system up and running.

SUMA, the Supply Management System, was designed to quickly sort and inventory large amounts of supplies for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean after natural disasters. The software was first tested in 1990, and has been used after hurricanes and tropical storms, floods and earthquakes throughout the Region since that thee.

Implementing SUMA in Haiti presented new challenges. The SUMA system was used previously in situations where a local structure was in place to coordinate emergency response. With Haiti this was not the case. Numerous players, including the returning Constitutional Government, multinational military forces, U.N. agencies, and numerous NGOs had to cooperate to hire personnel, offload and warehouse cargo, and distribute supplies.


The SUMA System helped ease the logistics of distributing supplies to the population of Haiti after the international embargo was lifted.

Photo: Poncelet PAHO/WHO

SUMA in Haiti...

One of the major objectives of the SUMA Project was to progressively transfer its management to the Government of Haiti. A group of 28 Haitian volunteers was trained in operating the system. The training was Important not only for immediate requirements, but filled long-term needs in the Region for French-speakers familiar with SUMA.

After disasters, needed supplies compete with totally useless items from an admirable but misguided impulse of people who want to help. To avoid a flood of such contributions, donors were requested to send only supplies that met quality standards and conformed to a list of requirements. Since the planting season as well as the new school-year were about to begin, the team added agricultural supplies and educational material to the list of supplies that SUMA could inventory.

Customs and immigration officials also participated in the SUMA training. They found that SUMA was an excellent management tool that enabled the receiving organizations, such as NGOs, UN agencies, and the Government to clear supplies through customs in minimum time.

To add to the challenges being faced by the Haitian people and the returning Government. Tropical Storm "Gordon" hit Haiti in November. Over 1,100 were killed by floods and landslides and an estimated 1.5 million people were affected. The training and interinstitutional cooperation achieved two months earlier while setting up the SUMA Project paid off when a new wave of relief supplies arrived. The local SUMA Team, already equipped with a warehouse, assisted in the inventory along with UN/DHA. Because customs and immigration authorities were familiar with SUMA it was possible to rapidly inventory needed items: most consignees received supplies within 24 hours of arrival.

SUMA proved to be a valuable and flexible tool both in the "complex" emergency situation and after the devastating tropical storm that hit Haiti. It was possible to quickly make changes in the software to meet specific needs of the Government and relief agencies. At a time when many official procedures were unclear, resulting in delays in distributing supplies, information provided through SUMA facilitated logistics for the Government and receiving organizations.


A team of Haitian volunteers receive SUMA training.

Photo: Acosta, PAHO/WHO

Preparing SUMA Teams...

Since 1991, over 900 volunteers from Latin America and the Caribbean have been trained to use SUMA software, classifying and sorting supplies, using SUMA labels, and operating radiocommunications and generators. There are two levels of training that correspond to the TERMINAL and CENTRAL components of SUMA:

The introductory course on SUMA TERMINAL lasts three days and is designed for those working at the supply entry points during an emergency, such as at an airport.

The operation of SUMA CENTRAL is taught during a two-day course to those identified as potential SUMA team leaders. The SUMA CENTRAL level is designed for those managing supplies after an emergency and operates at the site where emergency response is being administered and controlled.

... Around the Region