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article imageUN to Ground West Africa Humanitarian Air Service

By Bob Ewing     Mar 17, 2009 in World
The United Nations said it is shutting down its Humanitarian Air Service in West Africa due to a serious lack of funding.
This action will 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.
UNHAS is operated by the World Food Programme (WFP) and has played a major role in accessing remote locations and in cases where insecurity prevents travel by road.
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.
"In Niger, air services are required due to security reasons. The UN Department of Safety and Security has banned all travel by road after several mine incidents and ambushes in the north and east of the country," added Casella.
"And, even where roads are passable, it can take up to four days to drive to some of the most remote locations in Niger. And, those same destinations can be reached within two hours by air."
There have been pleas from some 30 NGOs working in the West African coastal area asking WFP to keep the service running because 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.
WFP’s Emilia 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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