News / Africa

UN to Shutdown Critical Air Service to West Africa

The World Food Program says it will have to shut down the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service in the west African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia because it has run out of cash. 

The World Food Program says shutting down the Humanitarian Air Service on Wednesday will have terrible consequences for about one-quarter of a million people in west Africa who rely on the service for essential needs.  The U.N. agency says the West African Coastal service needs $2.5 million to stay in operation until the end of the year.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella says the shutdown will have a dramatic effect. "People in the really far-flung parts of Guinea and Sierra Leone and Liberia - they will be waiting for medical attention that will not arrive," she said. "They will be waiting for educational support, for water and sanitation engineers to help them with their wells.  They will be waiting for people who help to train local community leaders because these are countries that are recovering from years of conflict and trying to rebuild."  

Casella says this kind of progress can be impeded without the support of non-governmental organizations, U.N. agencies, and voluntary humanitarian organizations that help.  

"Even though they are small programs, they are important programs to these countries," she said.  And, right now, Guinea is in a moment of election and this is a delicate time to be stopping that kind of support."  

Casella notes the roads in these countries are so bad it can take three to five days to travel 1,000 kilometers.  And, to add to the existing problems, the rainy season is starting.  She says this will make many of the roads practically impassable for six or seven months.

The U.N. Humanitarian Air Service flies aid workers, journalists, and others to some of the hardest to reach emergency operations in the world.  It currently operates in six African countries, as well as Haiti and Afghanistan.

The West African Coastal service was serving about 500 passengers per month.  Casella says even if a donor were to come along with the needed cash right now, it would be too late.  She says once the service is shut down, it will take five to six months to restart it.

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