UN air service to halt aid flights in West Africa


LAS VEGAS (eTN) – A lack of funding has forced the United Nations food aid agency to suspend humanitarian flights to three West African countries from tomorrow, the agency reported Tuesday, June 15.

The UN World Food Program (UNWFP), which manages the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), said flights to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia will be halted because it has been unable to raise the US$2.5 million required to continue operating until the end of this year.

The West African coastal service of UNHAS, according to the UN WFP, had been serving about 500 humanitarian passengers per month – people working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, donor representatives, and journalists – benefiting an estimated 250,000 people in some of the least accessible parts of the three countries, WFP spokesperson Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva.

“The flights were necessary for safety reasons and also helped relief agencies save time and resources,” the agency said.

In 2003, the UN food aid agency was given the responsibility of providing safe, reliable, and cost-efficient air transport for all UN agencies involved in relief operations. That responsibility led to the founding of UNHAS. Working on behalf of the humanitarian community, UNHAS operated 48,000 hours in 2008, transporting 361,000 passengers and 15,200 metric tons of cargo globally.

The food agency’s aviation unit is said to not directly own or operate the aircraft. Instead, it provides air services by chartering aircraft to meet the needs of emergency and humanitarian support for UN agencies and other cooperating partners. UNHAS, UN says, is now operating in some 16 countries.