WFP cuts back air service for aid workers in sudan because of lack of funding
The ability of 14,000 aid workers to travel to Darfur and other parts of Sudan will be reduced with immediate effect due to a lack of funding for the Humanitarian Air Service, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today.
WFP-HAS, the air service run by WFP on behalf of the entire humanitarian community in Sudan, must cut one helicopter immediately and two fixed-wing aircraft on 19 June from its fleet because it is unable to cover the costs of carrying aid workers to remote parts of Darfur and southern Sudan. Also, fees for helicopter flights in Darfur will increase from 1 July.
"Since March, we've been facing the possible closure of the air service because of a lack of funds. The measures announced today are aimed to keep vital services going for longer, while we wait for new funding to be confirmed," said Kenro Oshidari, WFP's Representative in Sudan.
"Undoubtedly, this is a blow to the humanitarian effort in Sudan. The impact will be felt by vulnerable people who depend on the international community for crucial services," he said, adding the cuts will also reduce the ability to respond to urgent medical evacuation requests and staff relocations because of insecurity. Last year, WFP-HAS carried out 267 security and medical evacuations. WFP-HAS needs an infusion of $20 million by June 15 in order to avoid some of the cuts and maintain full service through the coming months. The total UNHAS shortfall is $48 million on the $77 million budget for this year. The cuts announced today are as follows:
1. The Darfur helicopter fleet is reduced to five from six with immediate effect. About 3,000 humanitarian workers use WFP helicopters each month to reach remote parts of Darfur, where travel by road is impossible due to insecurity, banditry or poor road conditions. One helicopter currently due for maintenance will not be replaced, bringing the fleet down to five helicopters.
2. Helicopter fees will be increased as of July 1. The user fees paid by humanitarian passengers on helicopters will be raised to $100 per flight, from the current $40 – a 250 percent hike. This makes the helicopter fee equal to that of the fixed wing aircraft.
3. Reduction of flights to Darfur and South Sudan as of June 19. WFP will not renew contracts on two fixed-wing aircraft: one Dash-8 and one Beechcraft 1900. Flights to Darfur from the capital Khartoum will be reduced to five days a week from six. Service to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, will be reduced to three flights a week from four, while service to Rumbek and Malakal will be reduced to two flights a week from three. The loss of the Beechcraft 1900 will reduce the ability to provide extra flights on high-traffic days and to pick up stranded passengers when other aircraft have technical problems.
In addition, WFP has cancelled plans to add one Twin Otter aircraft to serve field locations in West Darfur. Earlier this year, armed clashes in the area near the border with Chad increased the demand for the Humanitarian Air Service there, but this additional service will not be possible.
The cuts announced today will reduce monthly spending from $6.2 million to $5.2 million. About 70 per cent of the budget supports Darfur humanitarian activities.
So far this year, donors have provided $13.2 million in confirmed contributions to WFP-HAS, about 17 per cent of the required budget. For the first three months of the year, WFP-HAS was sustained by $15.8 million generated by a nominal fee charged to passengers in 2007 and carried over to this year's operation. Aid organizations pay $100 per seat on a fixed wing aircraft and, until the July 1 price increase, $40 per seat on a helicopter.
WFP-HAS has received contributions this year from the European Commission ($4.5 million), the United States ($3.25 million), the UN Common Emergency Response Fund + Common Humanitarian Fund ($3 million), Private Donors ($900,000), France ($756,000) and Ireland ($739,000).