What It Takes To Reach The Remote Corners Of Chad

Nestled in a far eastern corner of Chad lies the dusty town of Goz Beida. It's vast, orange-colored landscape stretches as far as the eye can see, and is particularly noticeable from the sky. For the thousands of humanitarian workers who travel to Chad each year, flying is often the only way to reach more than 2.4 million food-insecure Chadians and around 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers throughout the country.

The Goz Beida airstrip is a crucial link to the Dar Sila region, one of the most vulnerable areas in Chad, where it serves as the busiest regional destination of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), managed by the World Food Programme (WFP). However, following more than a decade of UNHAS flights, the airstrip gradually deteriorated, rendering air operations unsafe - a situation that would have worsened with this year’s seasonal rains. Thanks to a partnership between WFP, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and the Government of Chad, the airstrip has just completed a successful rehabilitation. 

Improving air services and saving on costs

Over the course of six weeks, rehabilitation works focused on re-surfacing and compacting the airstrip, restoring a safe gradient and improving drainage along the shoulders.

“The rehabilitation of the Goz Beida airstrip not only improves our ability to deliver an uninterrupted service to the humanitarian community in Chad,” says Eric Perdison, Acting Chief of WFP’s Aviation Service. “But it also contributes to significant cost-savings to UNHAS operations.”

Rehabiliation works underway at Goz Beida. Photo: WFP/Mikael Gartner

Responding more quickly

Prior to its rehabilitation, the poor conditions of the airstrip meant that UNHAS was only able to operate small aircraft due to safety concerns. This resulted in fewer passengers who could be transported at a time, and more flights. Now, UNHAS is able to use larger aircraft to carry three times as many passengers in a single flight.

This has been very helpful for the many aid agencies working in the area, who are supporting refugees, displaced people and food insecure communities throughout the region.

“The rehabilitation of the Goz Beida airstrip has allowed Médecins Sans Frontières Holland to quickly respond to emergencies in eastern Chad,” says Brad Rollans, Logistics Coordinator for MSF – Holland in Chad. “Having the possibility to fly directly to Goz Beida allows our teams the ability to plan rapid interventions in remote places.”

WFP's air services provide a way for aid workers to reach the people they're helping, like these girls above, who are Nigerian refugees. Photo: WFP/Miguel Tomas

Minimising risk while enhancing flight safety

UNHAS plays an important role in humanitarian operations in Chad. While gravel airstrips may not be the long-term solution for busy destinations such as Goz Beida, the rehabilitation will improve flight safety and minimise the risk of aircraft damage for at least another two years.