Surge in donations keeps helicopters flying in Pakistan

Published on 15 November 2005

WFP has welcomed a surge in new donations – US$14 million – for its under-funded US$100 million helicopter operation, extending the life of the mission in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir for at least another two months.

The recent donations are from the United States (US$5 million), Norway (US$3.6 million), Canada (US$3.4 million) and Denmark (US$1.8 million).

"Grateful to donors"

“We are grateful to donors for these contributions which allow our helicopters to continue operating into January,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

“The size of the overall fleet was originally larger, but we had to shelve plans to increase it when funding was dangerously low.

Fortunately, the number of villages and areas accessible by road has increased considerably just in the last few days, thanks to the work of the Pakistan Army to clear landslides and repair damage. Some areas can now be reached overland.”

Helicopters critical

This is the largest humanitarian helicopter airlift operation WFP has ever launched

Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus

In general, however, helicopters remain critical for the movement of humanitarian supplies and aid workers in the rugged mountainous terrains of north Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where an earthquake killed nearly 80,000 people on 8 October.

WFP is currently deploying 13 MI-8 and two MI-26 helicopters to airlift food and non-food items to the worst-affected communities.

The airlift is also being assisted by three Chinook helicopters from Britain’s Royal Air Force which are due to start flying this week and four German Air Force CH-53 helicopters supplied by NATO.

Combined airlift

The combined airlift is now moving between 70 and 100 metric tons of relief supplies every day.

“This is the largest humanitarian helicopter airlift operation WFP has ever launched,” Abdulla said.

Since the start of the operation, the United Nations Humanitarian Air service, which is operated by WFP, has delivered over 1,200 tons of supplies and carried 5,500 passengers.

Transporting the injured

It has also transported hundreds of injured people from remote villages to towns where they can receive medical attention.

The helicopters are critical to WFP plans for assisting 200,000 people located in remote, hard-to-reach areas which must be re-supplied monthly throughout the long winter.

Mountain experts

Urgent efforts to reach isolated communities include a new collaboration with teams of mountain experts which started over the weekend.

Using helicopters, WFP transports these small, highly skilled mobile units of mountain guides as close to the quake zone as possible, providing them with satellite communications equipment and high-altitude survival packs.

On foot, they probe deeply into the disaster zone, and help assess the needs of the communities they find. To facilitate the arrival of relief supplies, they construct helipads and help organize the distribution of incoming emergency goods.

Without shelter

The size of the overall fleet was originally larger, but we had to shelve plans to increase it when funding was dangerously low

Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus

WFP estimates that there are about 100,000 people in remote mountain areas who have received no aid whatsoever, many of whom are without shelter.

The WFP helicopter fleet is working closely in conjunction with the Pakistan Army helicopters, in order to maximize available resources.

For example, WFP MI-8 helicopters have been flying joint sorties to stricken villages in tandem with MI-17s flown by the Pakistan Army.

Relief supplies

Helicopters carry a variety of relief supplies – food and non-food – provided by the United Nations, NGOs and the Pakistan Government.

Other co-operation with the Pakistan Army includes food distribution in the camps for people displaced by the earthquake. Of the 90 camps administered by the Army, more than half have been supplied by food from WFP.

Reaching the hungry

WFP has so far delivered more than 10,000 tons of food by land and air for distribution to earthquake survivors. It has so far reached more than 840,000 people out of a target of one million of the worst affected.

A further million people have received food from non-WFP sources, including the ICRC, non-governmental organisations and the Pakistan Government.

Of the US$100 million required for the helicopter operations, WFP has so far received only US$24.8 million (25 percent).