Pakistan helicopter lifeline faces drastic cuts

Published on 17 February 2006

WFP has said that US$24 million is urgently needed to maintain its helicopter ‘lifeline’ operation in Pakistan -- the largest relief helicopter operation in the UN’s history -- until the end of August to assist thousands of victims of last year’s earthquake.

WFP has said that US$24 million is urgently needed to maintain its helicopter ‘lifeline’ operation in Pakistan -- the largest relief helicopter operation in the UN’s history -- until the end of August to assist thousands of victims of last year’s earthquake.

If food and other essential items can no longer be airlifted into the mountain valleys, the earthquake survivors, who have no other means of subsistence, will be at further risk

Michael Jones, WFP Country Director in Pakistan.

WFP is currently assisting 400,000 people in remote and cut-off areas who can only be reached by helicopter.

The 20-helicopter airlift is now moving 300 metric tons of relief supplies every day, with a record breaking 415 metric tons delivered on 11 February.

“Since the earthquake struck in October, these helicopters have been crucial in transporting food and non-food items, like medicine and warm clothing and they have helped to prevent many deaths,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

“However, winter is not yet over and hundreds of thousands of people still urgently need to be reached,” he said.

Reduced fleet

WFP’s US$24 million requirement is based on a very thorough analysis of operational requirements for the last stages of winter and into early spring.

WFP is currently operating 20 helicopters, however from 1 March until the end of May, the number will reduce to 12 (costing US$10.9 million).

From June to end August, the fleet will be further reduced to eight helicopters (costing US$13 million).

Landslides persist

Road access is expected to remain limited for some time due to ongoing landslides.

According to the International Landslide Center/Landslide Observatory Open File Report, the snow melt could result in further landslides in March and April, with a second round of landslides during the July monsoon season.

It could take several months to repair and open primary and secondary roads.

Many at risk

“If food and other essential items can no longer be airlifted into the mountain valleys, the earthquake survivors, who have no other means of subsistence, will be at further risk,” said Michael Jones, WFP’s Country Director in Pakistan.

“Also affected will be those living in congested camps, reliant on external assistance, who may delay their return home. Their return to a normal life is tied to the country’s overall reconstruction effort,” he added.

The next harvest in the region will take place in June/July, however with a lack of seed and fertilizers, production is expected to be limited. The main harvest is in October.

Helicopters necessary

“We need the helicopters to provide food, seeds, fertilizers and other equipment for reconstruction. We’ll be relying on pack animals but there is an overall shortage of animals to transport the required amount of assistance. Thus the crucial need for supplemental air assistance,” stressed Jones.

Since the beginning of the air operation, the WFP/United Nations Humanitarian Air Service has airlifted more than 14,000 tons of food and 4,000 tons of non-food items such as tents and tools, on behalf of the humanitarian community.

This is in addition to transporting nearly 28,000 passengers, including bringing thousands of humanitarian workers to the affected zones, and evacuating some 6,000 sick and wounded to the nearest hospitals.

Overcoming the crisis

Following the earthquake hit the mountainous region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir on 8 October, killing over 73,000 people and rendering some 2.5 million people homeless, the helicopter operation has proved vital in reaching hundreds of thousands of people in areas cut off by landslides who otherwise would have been inaccessible.

To overcome this immense logistical challenge, WFP/UNHAS deployed a fleet of 20 helicopters comprising 16 MI-8, two MI-26 and two KA32.

Winter is not yet over and hundreds of thousands of people still urgently need to be reached

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

So far, WFP has received US$56.4 million, but an additional US$24 million is required to continue the relief effort with an increasingly reduced fleet.

“Donors have been extremely generous and we still need their support until we get past this crisis stage,” said Abdulla.

WFP plans to feed 600,000 people mainly through food-for-work, food-for education schemes through the next two years.

People who lack remittances and other family support will be provided with food as they return to build their homes, community infrastructure and livelihoods.

A school feeding operation will address short-term hunger for 450,000 children.