Cash-starved WFP may be forced to ground helicopters

Published on 31 October 2005

Less than four weeks after Pakistan’s worst-ever earthquake, WFP may be forced to ground its relief helicopters because it lacks the funds to fly them.

The helicopters are the only means to reach hundreds of thousands of survivors cut off by landslides in the rugged mountains of northeast Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Less than 10 percent funded

WFP, the leading UN food aid and logistics agency, has so far received less than 10 percent of the US$100 million needed to deploy 30 transport helicopters to move food aid and other humanitarian supplies to villages and communities scattered in the area devastated by the 8 October earthquake.

With winter approaching, more areas will soon be cut off by snow.

"Extremely worrying"

It is extremely worrying that the international community has so far failed to come up with an adequate response to this crisis

Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe

“It is tragic that when we have the expertise and technical capacity to ensure that most of the survivors get their basic food needs through winter, we cannot reach them because of a lack of funding.

"And it is extremely worrying that the international community – which was so generous after the Indian Ocean tsunami – has so far failed to come up with an adequate response to this crisis,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Joint logistics

WFP, which is in charge of organizing joint logistics for most of the humanitarian agencies operating in the 28,000-sq-km quake area, needs nearly US$17 million a month to mobilize and operate these aircraft, but so far has received only US$9.8 million.

The cost of an MI-26, the largest helicopter in the world with a capacity to ferry 16 tons of supplies per flight at these high altitudes, is approximately US$11,000 per hour – excluding fuel and support costs.

Russian-made planes

WFP needs to operate five of these giant Russian-made planes in addition to 22 of the smaller MI-8 which each carry three tons of supplies.

However, due to limited funding, WFP has only deployed eight MI-8 helicopters and one MI-26 and has confirmed only an additional four MI-8's and one MI-26.

Plea for fuel

If the donations continue to trickle in as slowly as this, it may be too late for many of the hundreds of thousands of survivors we need to reach

Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe

“As things stand, this operation could very well shut down in less than two weeks,” said WFP's Chief of Logistics Service Amer Daoudi.

He urged donors for cash but made a special appeal for oil-producing countries to donate free fuel as an in-kind contribution to this vital operation.

“With rising oil prices, the aviation fuel cost for a full operation for one month amounts to US$2.5 million. Oil producing countries and particularly those close to Pakistan could do the quake victims a great favour by providing us with fuel,” Daoudi said.

Harsh winter predicted

Helicopters are becoming more and more essential as landslides continue to block many access roads and snow is imminent in what meteorologists predict will be an extremely harsh winter.

The Meteorological Service of Pakistan expects the snowfall to reach depths of up to 10 feet in areas north of Muzaffarabad, the epicentre of the quake, with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees Celsius in some areas.

Critical window

A critical window of just four weeks remains for WFP to pre-position food stocks for six months in the most remote areas that may be completely cut off by winter.

“If the donations continue to trickle in as slowly as this, it may be too late for many of the hundreds of thousands of survivors we need to reach,” said Abdulla.

“At least 50,000 people were killed when the quake struck. If we don’t want to see another wave of deaths on the same scale, the time for the international community to act is now.”

Deliveries so far

WFP has so far been able to deliver nearly 4,500 tons of food, using planes, helicopters, trucks, rafts and pack mules to nearly half a million people affected by the earthquake.

The helicopters have carried more than 2,000 passengers and 110 tons of cargo, including food and non-food items.

So far donors to WFP humanitarian air services’ operation are Canada (US$4.7 million), the United States (US$3.5 million), the United Kingdom (US$1.1 million) and Switzerland (US$500,000).