As conflicts rage in Iraq and Syria, the National revealed, Dubai International Humanitarian City (DIHC) has been feeling the impact in the steep demand for the use of its warehousing facilities from international bodies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A steady stream of lorries now carries essential materials and foodstuffs for the displaced populations in the Middle East, as well as other countries affected by unrest, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Jordan, Libya and Turkey.

Soliman Daud, a senior global supply officer for UNHCR, noted that it is currently holding core relief items such as blankets, mosquito nets and solar lamps designed to serve some 350,000 people at DIHC – one of the organisation’s largest stockpiles in the world.

“Dubai has a good strategic location and between 2007 and 2013 our stockpile has been increasing,” Daud told the newspaper. “By air, relief items can be dispatched in 72 hours.”

As a dedicated hub to provide such services, DIHC has seen its role within the humanitarian logistics sector expand rapidly, with more than 50 members now using its office and storage space, including nine UN agencies, 13 suppliers and 28 international NGOs.

The topic is a serious one, because for large organisations such as the UNHCR or the World Food Programme, logistics costs can make up to three quarters of the operational expenses.

“Due to its strategic location and proximity to many disaster-prone areas in Asia and Africa, the Middle East is one of the locations where most aid is stockpiled at,” noted Ozlem Ergun, co-director of Centre for Humanitarian Logistics at Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Such a hub brings a lot of related activity, such as the use of ports, airports, other logistics and transport services, so there is also job creation and a contribution to the economy.”

The professor noted that the humanitarian aid industry collected a record $22bn from donor governments, foundations, corporations and individuals – providing 250,000 jobs last year.

“We had planned for five years, but now we are almost full,” said Shaima Al Zarooni, DIHC’s CEO, adding that 85% of its office space and 95% of its warehouse space was now in use.

A 2,000m2 expansion of the existing office space is now planned for next year, while within the next three to five years IHC is planning to expand into two plots at Al Maktoum airport.

However, Al Zarooni added in her comments to the National that the DIHC is conservative and screens the aid agencies it lets into its premises, requiring that they have to be non-profit, non-political and non-religious, “to ensure sustainability and build an institution.”

The UN agencies get offices and warehouse space free of charge as they have the largest operations, while other the NGOs get these at half the market prices, subsidised by the Dubai Government, at a cost to the IHC of $39.2m since 2009, while members paid $1.17m.