The United Nations World Food Programme announced today that the Humanitarian Air Service (WFP-HAS) in Sudan can continue operations until mid-June thanks to recent donations.
A US$2 million contribution from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and accumulated private donations from Japan totaling just under US$500,000 will allow the air operation to continue.
WFP-HAS, which flies about 14,000 humanitarian workers around Sudan each month, has faced a funding crisis this year. On its US$77 million budget for 2008, the air service still needs US$51 million to fly from mid-June onwards.
The humanitarian community has warned that if the air service is grounded, relief operations in Darfur and post-conflict recovery operations in southern Sudan would grind to a halt.
WFP-HAS operates 18 fixed wing aircraft in Sudan, plus six helicopters dedicated to transporting about 3,000 aid workers per month to the most difficult to reach corners of Darfur – where some of the most vulnerable conflict-affected people wait for help.
The air service is more important than ever because insecurity in recent months throughout Darfur has made road travel extremely dangerous. So far this year, 64 WFP contract trucks have been hijacked, with 41 still missing and 28 drivers are unaccounted for. Two WFP contract drivers have been killed in Darfur this year. Three other drivers and one assistant were killed in two separate incidents in southern Sudan.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan reports a total of 106 hijackings of humanitarian vehicles (including the WFP-contracted vehicles), attacks on 13 humanitarian convoys and armed assaults on 51 humanitarian and UN compounds in Darfur since the start of 2008. Seven humanitarian staff have been killed in Darfur this year (including the two WFP contract drivers). There are almost 14,000 humanitarian workers currently in Darfur.
Since WFP-HAS first warned of impending closure in a press release on March 10, it has also received contributions from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (US$4.5 million); France (US$756,000); Ireland (US$740,000); the UN Common Humanitarian Fund (US$500,000) and US$500,000 from Not On Our Watch, the organization founded by actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, producer Jerry Weintraub and civil rights lawyer David Pressman.