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Funding gap could ground UN air service for Africa

afrol News, 31 July - The UN air service, shuttling aid workers to remote locations to provide life-saving assistance to vulnerable people in Africa, is in danger of being shut down due to a funding shortage, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) which operates the flights.

Flights to Chad, where 4,000 humanitarian workers fly monthly to help 250,000 refugees from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur as well as 180,000 internally displaced persons, could be grounded as early as 15 August, the agency said, further adding that the Chad flights need an infusion of $6.7 million to stay in the air until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the service to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea could grind to a halt by 30 August, if it does not receive the required $3.3 million to remain in operation until the end of 2009.

With WPF flying thousands of relief workers to assist the needy, many of whom have been driven from their homes by conflict, “how will they reach people if they have no planes?” asked Pierre Carrasse, the agency’s Aviation Branch Chief.

“How will WFP reach the hungry? How will doctors reach their patients?” he added.

In February, the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) was forced to shut down its operations in Côte d’Ivoire due to lack of funds. In the same month, Niger also saw flights come to an end, but they could resume next month thanks to an injection of funds from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), said the UN reports.

With a 2009 budget of $160 million, the vital air service operates in Chad, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, the Central African Republic (CAR), West Africa and Afghanistan.

To date, UNHAS has received less than $40 million in contributions and expects to receive an additional $50 million from organizations whose personnel utilize the service.

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