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OR in Africa

There have been a couple of things I have seen recently highlighting OR in Africa. The first was a presentation by Luk Van Wassenhove on humanitarian logistics (here is an article Luk, David Kaatrud and Ramina Samii wrote about the UN Logistics Centre). While not limited to Africa, that region is certainly a key area. Humanitarian logistics offers a tremendous mix of organizational and technical challenges, not the least of which is coping with the sheer number of governments, NGOs, and other organizations, all with different objectives and requirements.

An article in the October OR/MS Today by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Emily Eelman, Minoli Ratnatunga and David Schaarsmith talked about a conference in Africa, the Operations Research Practice in Africa conference. Held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, this conference looked at opportunities for real-world problem solving using OR to address Africa’s issues. The summary brings up some interesting ethical issues (should OR be used to help repressive regimes?) and some area-specific OR issues (particularly the non-routine, non-replicable nature of crisis handling).

IFORS is holding its 2008 international conference in Africa: Sandton, South Africa to be specific. I’m traveling there in February to check out sites and speak with the local organizers. It turns out to be easier to get there than I thought, with direct (one stop for fueling) flights from JFK, Dulles, and Atlanta. I am also going to spend a few days in Capetown.

The issues brought up in these papers do make me wonder if working at scheduling professional sports leagues (my own current research) is the most valuable thing I can do with my life!