Lack of funds forces UN to ground West Africa humanitarian air service

17 March 2009

The United Nations said it is shutting down its Humanitarian Air Service in West Africa due to a serious lack of funding, seriously impairing aid operations in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flies aid workers from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as journalists and others, to some of the hardest-to-reach emergency operations around the world.

Run by the World Food Programme (WFP), UNHAS plays a vital role in areas in accessing remote locations and in cases where insecurity prevents travel by road.

WFP’s Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva that UNHAS will ground its West Africa coastal air service for good on 20 March. This follows the temporary suspension of its service in Niger on 28 February, also due to lack of funds.

About 30 NGOs working in the West African coastal area have pleaded with WFP not to close the Service, saying that they would be shut down or unable to perform their operations without this essential partner. However, it looked as if the Service will have to shut down this week.

Ms. Casella noted that UNHAS Chad is also significantly under-funded, with a shortfall of 92 per cent of its $11.4 million budget. This is particularly worrying the Service is expected to carry about 43,000 humanitarian workers over the course of 2009 in Chad.

For the Central African Republic, the shortfall is 83 per cent and there is no confirmed funding for that country beyond the end of this month. In addition, Ethiopia only has enough funding until the end of April.

This means that aid agencies will not be able to get to the people who need help, and that the UN will not be in a position to do urgent medical and security evacuations in a timely manner in some of these areas, noted Ms. Casella.

In 2008, UNHAS carried more than 360,000 humanitarian passengers and 15,000 metric tons of humanitarian cargo in 16 countries, on 58 chartered aircrafts.


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