Pakistan: lack of funds may force UN agency to ground vital quake aid choppers

31 October 2005

Little more than three weeks after Pakistan’s worst-ever earthquake, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) may be forced to ground its relief helicopters, the sole lifeline for hundreds of thousands of survivors cut off by landslides, within the next two weeks due to lack of funds to fly them, the agency warned today.

Little more than three weeks after Pakistan’s worst-ever earthquake, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) may be forced to ground its relief helicopters, the sole lifeline for hundreds of thousands of survivors cut off by landslides, within the next two weeks due to lack of funds to fly them, the agency warned today.

“It is extremely worrying that the international community – which was so generous after the Indian Ocean tsunami – has so far failed to come up with an adequate response to this crisis,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Amir Abdulla, said.

WFP has so far received less than 10 per cent of the $100 million needed to deploy 30 transport helicopters to move food aid and other humanitarian supplies to villages and communities scattered in the rugged mountains of northeast Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir area devastated by the 8 October quake.

With an extremely harsh winter forecast and already approaching, snow will soon cut off more areas ravaged by the disaster, which has already killed more than 50,000 people, injured some 74,000 others and left over 3 million more homeless. Helicopters are becoming more and more essential as landslides continue to block many access roads.

“It is tragic that when we have the expertise and technical capacity to ensure that most of the survivors get their basic food needs through winter, we cannot reach them because of a lack of funding,” Mr. Abdulla said.

In an opinion piece in the Beirut newspaper Al-Hayat today, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland thanked the Gulf States and Turkey, “the most generous donors in this crisis,” for their timely pledges of some $500 million in bilateral assistance, but he noted that this was mostly for reconstruction.

“Immediate needs on the ground, however, remain enormous, prompting the UN to nearly double the amount of its original emergency appeal. To save lives, we must put first things first. Reconstruction aid, while valuable and necessary, will not be of benefit in a year’s time if people die today for lack of emergency assistance,” he wrote.

“Financial pledges will go furthest in saving lives if they are converted immediately into cash, and channelled in close coordination with the UN’s emergency appeal.”

WFP, which is in charge of organizing joint logistics for most of the humanitarian agencies operating in the 28,000-square-kilometre quake area, needs nearly $17 million a month to mobilize and operate aircraft, but so far has received only $9.8 million.

The cost of a giant Russian-made MI-26, the largest helicopter in the world with a capacity to ferry 16 tons of supplies per flight at these high altitudes, is about $11,000 per hour, excluding fuel and support costs. WFP needs to operate five of these in addition to 22 smaller MI-8, which each carry three tons of supplies.

But due to limited funding, the agency has only deployed eight MI-8s and one MI-26, and has confirmed only an additional four MI-8's and one MI-26.

“As things stand, this operation could very well shut down in less than two weeks,” WFP's Chief of Logistics Service Amer Daoudi said, appealing for cash but also urging oil-producing countries to donate free fuel as an in-kind contribution to this vital operation.

“With rising oil prices, the aviation fuel cost for a full operation for one month amounts to $2.5 million. Oil producing countries and particularly those close to Pakistan could do the quake victims a great favour by providing us with fuel,” he said.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.