Shutdown looms for UN air service for aid workers in West Africa

The rising cost of fuel, on top of limited contributions, has grounded some flights of the UN Humanitarian Air Service The future of the United Nations air service that helps relief workers to deliver life-saving supplies and assistance to hundreds of thousands of West Africans is in jeopardy because of a funding shortfall of over $5 million, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has reported.

“As well as providing transport for aid workers, the humanitarian air service is also crucial for medical and security evacuations,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP’s Regional Director in West Africa.

“A disruption of these operations in West Africa will have serious consequences for the people in need of assistance, and also for the security of our staff.”

The rising cost of fuel, on top of limited contributions, has grounded some flights of the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) in some countries.
One plane has already suspended flights while another will fly on a limited schedule in the Central African Republic (CAR), where WFP is helping 300,000 people. The service – which needs $3 a month to stay airborne for the next six months – may be forced to suspend operations this month.

During the rainy season, UNHAS is often the only means of transporting aid workers, as roads are impassable and many parts of the country are cut off from Bangui, the capital.

UNHAS for the West African coastal region, helping people in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, is also facing shutdown, with a $2.5 million funding shortfall needing to be filled if it is to continue its services until the end of the year.

In June, WFP said it would have to scale back the operations of UNHAS in Sudan due to lack of funds, curtailing the ability of 14,000 aid workers to travel to Darfur and other parts of the strife-torn nation.

Source: UN Information Service, Accra