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Flying to the rescue

How the Logistics Cluster-facilitated Airlifts in the Central African Republic are helping the humanitarian community save lives in the rainy season

By Amelia Stewart

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If you can't drive…why not fly? Logistics Cluster-facilitated airlifts in C.A.R. Photo: WFP / Bruno Djoyo

It's the peak of the rainy season in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). The downpours are heavy, the foliage is a thick lovely green but the earth roads are muddy and mostly impassable. It is good news for rain-fed agriculture but a nightmare for most of the aid organisations that have to bring essential services to people made vulnerable by conflict in the country.

A critical decline in basic social services, food production and the general ability to maintain livelihoods means almost 3 million people require humanitarian assistance across the C.A.R. That's equivalent to the entire population of Madrid or Nairobi.The transportation of relief items is a crucial yet ever-challenging component of the humanitarian response in the Central African Republic (C.A.R).

Reaching these people with humanitarian assistance — healthcare, nutrition, food, shelter — presents extreme logistics challenges for two main reasons: the first is that many are in remote places that are exceptionally hard to reach due to the lack of road infrastructure. The second is that these groups are constantly on the move to escape the continued conflict that had engulfed the country since 2014. Right now, one in four people in the C.A.R. is displaced.

Some of the worst-affected locations are almost completely isolated as so few roads lead to them — and those that do are often not robust enough to support large trucks. Some locations can even take up to 3–4 weeks to reach! The struggle to get there is further hindered by the prevalent insecurity, often making it far too dangerous to travel via road.

So what's the solution? How do you get to these remote places quickly and safely to deliver much-needed support? Well, if you can't drive…why not fly?

And that's exactly what the humanitarian community is doing: the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) led Logistics Cluster is facilitating the movement of lifesaving relief items via emergency airlift.

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25 flights have flown this year, transporting over 100 metric tons of relief items for 15 aid agencies. Photo: WFP/Bruno Djoyo

Humanitarian groups have jointly identified five priority locations for the airlifts to land in the east and southeastern parts of the country where needs are particularly high. These are Bangassou, Birao, Bria, Obo and Zemio, chosen for their strategic position and actual capacity to receive the aircraft securely.

Through an agreement with the commercial air transport operator since 2017, the Logistics Cluster coordinates the use of, and free space on, three key aircraft, which are diverse in size and capacity to maximise efficiency.

The largest is an Antonov, which has a cargo capacity of 5 metric tons — equivalent to 2.5 cars or 1 African elephant. Then slightly smaller, but still incredibly effective, are the Beechcraft, which can carry up to 1.2 metric tons of cargo. Last but not least, is the Cessna Caravan with a payload of 800kg. The two smaller planes are particularly strategic as they're able to land without large runways and therefore can more easily access some of the very isolated areas.

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25 flights have already been flown this year, transporting over 100 metric tons of relief items for 15 humanitarian organisations. The lifesaving cargo ranges from PlumpyNut (a peanut-based paste for treatment of severe acute malnutrition) to malaria test kits; and these airlifts are especially crucial for the transportation of sensitive items such as medicine and vaccination kits.

Most recently almost 18 metric tons of critical cargo was airlifted to Zemio on behalf of 10 organisations, namely: Agence d'Aide à la Coopération Technique Et au Développement (ACTED), Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), CSSI, UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Jeunesse Unie pour la Protection de l'Environnement et le Developpement Communautaire (JUPEDEC) , UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).