Friday, January 15, 2010

A Logistics Nightmare in Haiti Post the Earthquake and the Price of Anarchy

The New York Times is reporting today on the logistical nightmare faced by relief workers in trying to get the critical needs supplies to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Airplanes have had to circle from 2 to 3 hours before landing; there is no central control of distribution of supplies even after the planes land, plus many of the roads (which were not in good shape even prior to the quake) are now severely damaged if not littered with debris, and the principal port and equipment for unloading supplies have also been seriously affected. The relief workers are trying to determine alternative routes so that they can deliver the clean water, medical supplies, and food. At the same time, congestion is becoming an issue (sometimes referred to as convergence in humanitarian logistics parlance) since vehicles and supplies do not have sufficient warehousing capacity in which to offload and from which to distribute.

The situation in Haiti brings to mind a measure in network analysis, notably, in transportation and telecommunications, called the price of anarchy, which is the ratio of the total cost under user-optimizing (decentralized) behavior to the total cost under system-optimizing (centralized) behavior. We recently published a paper on transportation network robustness in the presence of degradable links in the International Transactions in Operational Research and related our new measures to the price of anarchy. Had Haiti had a more resilient and robust network infrastructure, the losses may not have been so severe.

As this article in the Times and others in the press have stated, this is a disaster of monumental proportions. What will happen in the next few hours and days will determine also how many of those who have survived will be able to go on in such horrendous circumstances.

What will transpire in the next couple of weeks and months in Haiti will be a serious case study on the interplay of development, reconstruction, and humanitarianism.