Aid Flights Could Be Grounded Due To Funding Shortage

Published on 31 July 2009

A WFP Humanitarian Air Service helicopter in flight from Kutum to El Fasher, North Darfur.

Copyright: WFP/Emilia Casella

ROME – The humanitarian air service run by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is struggling to keep its planes flying in parts of Africa due to a dramatic shortage of funds.  The flights carry aid workers to remote locations where they provide vital assistance for hundreds of thousands of people – many of whom have been driven from their homes by conflict.

The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), which is operated by WFP, carries aid workers to emergency operations where they provide support and assistance to populations affected by war and natural disasters. But the UNHAS air service to Chad will run out of funds by 15 August, while the UNHAS service in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will run out of funds by 30 August.

Reaching the hungry

“We fly thousands of aid workers to dangerous and remote locations all over the world. How will they reach people if they have no planes? How will WFP reach the hungry? How will doctors reach their patients? How will people have clean water if the engineers who help to build wells can’t get there,” asked Pierre Carrasse, Chief of WFP’s Aviation Branch.

In Chad, a monthly average of 4,000 humanitarian passengers fly on six UNHAS aircraft to reach 10 destinations, where they provide assistance to 250,000 Darfurian refugees and 180,000 internally displaced people in the East of the country.

Facing closure

The Chad service needs $6.7 million to keep flying to the end of the year. If no new funds arrive by 15 August, UNHAS will be forced to start cutting back the number of aircraft and flights, and could eventually face closure.  The West Africa Service, comprising Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, needs just $3.3 million to keep flying to the end of the year.

In February, UNHAS was forced to close its service in Ivory Coast due to lack of funds. The same month, the service to Niger was also cut, but thanks to a recent donation from the UN Common Emergency Relief Fund, the Niger service may resume in August.

UNHAS operates in Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, West Africa and Afghanistan, with a 2009 budget of US$160 million. So far this year, the service has received less than $40 million in contributions. It expects to raise a further $50 million in fees to be paid by the organizations that use it.