Scores of countries in need of humanitarian aid may not get it as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday issued a critical warning saying it may soon have “no choice” but to suspend “most” of its critical aid flights, because of a lack of funding.
The UN food agency in a statement said it has been operating such flights to some 132 countries amid the travel bans and closed borders in many parts of the world that have caused logistics nightmares for the delivery of humanitarian aid and personnel.
The agency said since May 1, it has completed 375 cargo and passenger emergency flights, delivering “more than 2,500 responders from more than 80 aid organisations flown to destinations where their assistance is urgently needed.”
WFP spokesperson, Elisabeth Byrs, said unless a “substantial injection of funds” is provided by donors by early July, it would be forced to ground most of its humanitarian air fleet by the end of next month.
“I think all the operations will be affected, because you need money to get to charter a plane for passenger and medical evacuation, or to transport cargo”, she told reporters in Geneva.
Ms Byrs said, “I know that slowly and slowly, step by step, some commercial flights will resume and we use them as often as it’s possible”, but there will still be countries, especially in regions like the Middle East, “where it’s badly needed”.
WFP operates a network of so-called global aid hubs in China, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates, near the locations where supplies are manufactured.
It also controls regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Malaysia, Panama and Dubai.
The WFP aviation service has, over recent months, transported huge volumes of urgently-needed medical supplies – including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks and ventilators – as well as staff from scores of aid organisations.
WFP also transports goods on behalf of other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, by road and by sea.
Ms Byrs said the organisation have been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 outbreak on a “response on a scale ‘never seen before’
“This is a response on a scale never seen before” Ms Byrs said in reference to the emergency supply system.
She lamented that the pandemic is showing no signs of unabating and it is crucial that the response does not stop now when it is needed most.
“The common services budget of $965 million to maintain the air service until the end of the year is only 14 per cent funded.
Only $178 million has so far been confirmed or advanced,” Some $ 787 million are urgently required to sustain these essential air cargo and passenger movement operations until the end of the year.
Ms Byrs warned of severe consequences should the humanitarian flights cease.
Without the service, she warned, “hospitals in developing countries would not receive desperately needed medical supplies…Health centres serving pregnant women and undernourished children, would not receive life-saving nutritional products for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition.”
Ms Byrs added that “I could also tell you that we have provided enough cargo to fill 120 jumbo jets, waiting to be transported in coming weeks.”
As part of this system, WFP also has access to a global network of contracted air ambulances which have so far carried out nine medical evacuations of UN staff.