Revisiting the definition of humanitarian logistics

Joakim Kembro*, Nathan Kunz, Lina Frennesson, Diego Vega

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Humanitarian logistics (HL) is a relatively new research area that requires clear boundaries and a defined foundational perspective. Recent disasters have shown that the scope of HL is expanding, as in cases of cash-based interventions, outsourcing to commercial companies, and stronger involvement of local communities. These changes imply the importance of scrutinizing the old definitions of HL and determining whether they require adaptation. This step is important considering that inadequate definitions create (i) misconceptions about what HL is, (ii) a lack of unity and understanding of the field's research goals, (iii) confusion about what constitutes a contribution, and (iv) theoretical ambiguity, which masks promising research directions, fragments knowledge, and retards the progress of scientific research. Based on a structured review, we found that three definitions from around 2005 have predominated in the literature so far. We identified various issues with these definitions and then conducted an expert elicitation process to develop and validate an updated foundational perspective on HL. Finally, we analyzed the data collected from experts using the literature on what constitutes a “good definition.” This led us to propose a revised definition and accompanying properties for HL. We conclude the article by offering important avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12376
Peer-reviewed scientific journalJournal of Business Logistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19.03.2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • definition
  • disaster
  • humanitarian logistics
  • logistics
  • operations
  • supply chain management

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