How to...

manage travelling into a conflict zone

When political upheaval or natural disasters strike, most companies are moving their staff out. For NGOs and charities, however, their challenge is getting staff into the danger zone

STEP 1: THE BACKGROUND. In June this year pro-democracy protestors in Khartoum, Sudan, were violently dispersed by gunmen in military fatigues. While the official death toll was put at 61, the World Health Organisation estimates 748 were killed or wounded, while of the 11 main Khartoum hospitals, half were shut or partially closed.

STEP 2: THE RESPONSE. While most companies would be seeking to get all staff out of such circumstances, other organisations are going in to offer aid and assistance. “We focus exclusively on arranging travel for NGOs and charities, specialising in hard-to-reach destinations,” says Diversity Travel's President, Matthew Truin.

“We work with charities such as Save the Children, the Salvation Army and International Rescue Committee to enable workers to reach regions affected by natural disasters, civil unrest and epidemics.”

The TMC's clients needed to arrange travel for staff who provide timely services for victims of sexual violence, taking in supplies to support maternal and neonatal care, and transporting other staff to provide health and emergency services.

“We use a 24-hour risk intelligence system to track world events, and when we saw this one unfolding we knew there would be a big emergency response. Within hours, we were co-ordinating plans for clients,” says Truin.

STEP 3: THE SOLUTION. In the immediate aftermath of the military crackdown, scheduled airlines quickly cancelled services to Khartoum, meaning the task of getting first responders to the affected area wasn’t easy.

Flights are usually limited anyway, and the rapidly evolving situation on the ground meant the travel options changed on a daily or even hourly basis.

A swathe of further cancellations across the region meant the TMC had to look at airports in different countries and road transport into Sudan.

“Our in-house technology, IQ, allows us to look at a variety of options through the selection of partners,” explains Truin.

“Multi-leg journeys, extended layovers and transferring across airlines are quite common. Going into places where civil unrest is unfolding is a daunting experience for response workers, so our expertise can help ease concerns for our NGO partners.”

Diversity says having access to an extended network of trusted travel suppliers and specialised operators provides clients with peace of mind, which in turn increases travel policy compliance. “We’re able to arrange almost any mode of transport – chartering aircraft, buses, boats, helicopters,” says Truin.

STEP 4: THE RESULTS. An NGO working in the region at the time of the unrest said: “As soon as we realised that violence had broken out in Khartoum, we knew we would need to redirect our resources into the area to offer aid and assistance. In these circumstances, time is always critical as borders close, perimeters are set and getting to those in need becomes even harder.”

The spokesperson continues: “When commercial airlines began cancelling all flights into Khartoum, we were worried that we would be unable to get there but we were able to enter the city via ground transport instead and get to work.

“We had a global overview of our travellers with live-location data, direct messaging capabilities, travel data for every booking and instant travel alerts to advise workers of emergencies and potential dangers. In providing these services, we can act quickly, efficiently and ensure all communications to and from our travellers are logged and can be used to demonstrate compliance with duty of care obligations.”