UN agencies warn vital relief air service under threat in Ethiopia

17:30, October 21, 2009      

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A vital air service providing humanitarian support to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Ethiopia -- particularly the Somali Region -- may be grounded in a matter of weeks, due to a shortage of funds, UN agencies warned on Wednesday.

The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) User Group, which includes UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and donor representatives, said the service urgently requires 1.34 million U.S. dollars to continue its operations in Ethiopia through March 2010.

"With political upheaval inside Somalia, UNHCR was compelled to establish a refugee camp in the Dolo Ado area this year. Dolo Ado lies about 1,000 km from Addis Ababa and it takes an average of two days to travel by road through a challenging terrain," said Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR deputy representative in Ethiopia.

"The availability of UNHAS flights has greatly assisted in the rapid deployment of staff as well as the transportation of equipment."

Without these funds, UNHAS said it will begin cutting its flight services by the end of October, and it could be grounded entirely by the end of November.

Each month, an average of 800 aid workers for 40 organizations use UNHAS flights, and any disruption of the service would affect their ability to provide relief assistance in refugee camps in remote areas.

"The quick and frequent connection to Gode Zone is essential as we have to carry medical drugs that need to be transported at a controlled temperature," said Bernhard Meier zu Biesen, regional director of Horn of Africa for German Agro Action.

"UNHAS has been a vital component in supporting Samaritan's Purse's emergency efforts for 160,000 people in the Somali region," said James Bauler of Samaritan's Purse.

"The areas to which we bring emergency health, nutrition, water, and livelihoods are inaccessible due to conflict and security restrictions. UNHAS flights allow our organization to transport essential medical materials and to coordinate more effectively at the regional and national level."

UNHAS flies humanitarian workers, journalists, donors and others to some of the most remote emergency operations in the world.

It is run by the World Food Program (WFP) on behalf of the entire humanitarian community.

"As well as providing transport for aid workers, the humanitarian air service is also crucial for medical and security evacuations," said Mohamed Diab, WFP Ethiopia country director.

"A disruption of these operations will have very serious consequences for the people in need of humanitarian assistance, as well as for the safety and security of our staff."

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