The vital Humanitarian Air Service run by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Sudan has received a one-month reprieve from imminent closure thanks to generous donations totalling more than US$6 million, the agency has announced.
The UN WFP-Humanitarian Air Service (WFP-HAS) will be able to keep flying for another month, until 30 April, because four donors responded quickly to a recent announcement that the air operation would be grounded by 31 March due to lack of funds.
Air service vital
"Thanks to the European Commission, Ireland and other donors, humanitarian work in Darfur and other parts of Sudan will not be interrupted – for the time being," said Kenro Oshidari, WFP Representative in Sudan.
"We are hoping that more funds will come in, because there is a big gap between the US$6 million we have now and the US$77 million that we need this year," he said, adding that the air service is especially vital amid deteriorating security on the roads.
The total donations were US$6.24 million, exactly enough to keep a total of 24 WFP-HAS helicopters and aeroplanes in the air for one month carrying humanitarian workers and crucial supplies to remote areas across Sudan.
The quick response to WFP-HAS's warning of impending closure came from ECHO, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office which gave US$4.5 million; the government of Ireland, US$740,000; the UN Common Humanitarian Fund, US$500,000 and US$500,000 from Not On Our Watch (founded by actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, producer Jerry Weintraub and civil rights lawyer David Pressman).
An average of 8,000 relief workers in Darfur, who provide essential food assistance, water and healthcare services, use WFP-HAS each month. This number includes 3,000 passengers on the six helicopters travelling to the most remote parts of Darfur.
Roads "no go"
The helicopters are more important than ever because insecurity and banditry mean that many roads are ‘no go’ for humanitarian workers. Just this week, WFP announced that three drivers of WFP-contracted trucks had been murdered recently in Sudan.
More than half of WFP-HAS passengers work for non-governmental organizations and charities, while others work for UN humanitarian agencies such as WFP, UNICEF the World Health Organization and others.