The Philippines government and an international aid agency are automating inventory systems to improve relief distribution in one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are undertaking a US$46,000 customization of an open-source software commonly used in disaster relief, Sahana, to develop a national relief goods inventory and monitoring system, or RGIMS.
Sahana, developed in Sri Lanka after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, was most recently used during the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 2010 flooding in Pakistan and 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to name a few.
RGIMS covers inventory and warehousing, tracking and monitoring, and reporting and evaluation.
"We want [DSWD] managers to know what relief goods are in stock in real time," said Dragoslav Djuraskovic, WFP head of logistics in the Philippines.
In 2011, the National Resource Operations Centre (NROC) in the capital Manila - where all donations are handled - received, inventoried and re-packed an unknown quantity of goods.
"Everything that comes into our warehouse has to be encoded and sorted. Currently, we use Excel spreadsheets for all of this data. It's so tedious and the mere volume of the data makes the process prone to errors," said Ronald Reonal, 26, an administrative assistant at NROC.
On 6 February this year, an earthquake hit the southern province of Negros Occidental, leaving dozens dead, at least 70 missing and more than 32,000 displaced in 21 evacuation centres, according to the government's national disaster risk reduction and management council (NDRRMC) on 10 February.
Only two months earlier, Tropical Storm Washi swept through the southern island of Mindanao, affecting more than one million people.
DSWD officials told IRIN that in the midst of processing Washi donations, they have had to handle aid for earthquake survivors.
In 2011, the Philippines had 21 natural disasters affecting some seven million people and resulting almost 400 registered deaths, according to the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
The same year, international donors pledged or sent US$31.4 million - which does not include $10.4 million for Tropical Storm Washi, which hit on 17 December.
"There will be no getting away from the manual counting and sorting of relief goods and donations," said Francia Fabian, NROC supervising administrative officer. "But RGIMS will at least make the process more efficient and our reporting more accurate."
Donors and authorized staff will be able to see, real-time, as supplies dwindle.
"There will be a threshold warning system that will alert the user on inventory that is running low, moderate and out of stock or about to expire," said George Pornaras, WFP's IT consultant for RGIMS.
At present, all DSWD officers call NROC for stock levels, which is faxed or emailed as an Excel file.
Pornaras said there were plans to set up internet-ready field offices with extra servers to ensure the system can function during an emergency.
According to Sahana's website, there are both on-line and stand-alone functions that do not require internet access.
RGIMS will be initially tested in five DSWD offices by March and is expected to be rolled out to 19 more offices nationwide by August 2012.