Oh to be a Toyota dealer in East Africa. It must be a licence to print money. Their Prados are in demand among Kenya’s booming middle class, their Hiluxes are the favoured choice (with one or two modifications) of “businessmen” throughout Somalia, and as long as you have an unlimited supply of white paint you can make millions selling LandCruisers to the United Nations and assorted charities.
The big four-by-fours are crucial for getting aid into remote corners of northern Kenya, negotiating Somalia’s sand tracks and making river crossings during Sudan’s wet season. More than 1000 are operating in Darfur alone, the world’s biggest humanitarian operation.
But this isn’t the whole story. On a Friday evening they clog supermarket carparks in Nairobi as drivers wrestle their huge vehicles into tight spaces. At times almost every other vehicle on Khartoum’s perfectly laid Tarmac roads is a white UN 4×4, complete with bullbars. It’s always struck me that this is a conspicuous waste of money for organisations that should be cost-conscious at every turn. Why spend money on a hardcore off-roader if it is not going anywhere more arduous than from aid agency HQ to UN offices to the post office and maybe on to a nice little Italian restaurant for the evening?
So it is good to know that an organisation like the Fleet Forum is tackling exactly this issue. Not only are its 40-plus members wasting £100m a year but they are pumping 500,000 tonnes of carbon into the environment. With a few simple management changes – computerised monitoring of their fleets or buying town cars for town – all this can change, meaning more donor money can go where it needs to go.
It will be a struggle. Many aid agencies are riddled with sloppy thinking and staff who are resistant to change. Too often inefficiencies are overlooked in the rush to get aid to where it is needed. But as Rob McConnell, of Fleet Forum points out, the two are inextricably linked. As the relationship between climate change and humanitarian crises becomes more apparent, it seems silly not to take efforts to improve fuel efficiency. And if your remit includes child welfare then why not introduce driver and vehicle performance monitoring software – standard in the private sector – that can reduce road traffic accidents, one of the leading causes of childhood death. And all the while it helps donor money go further.