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UN Humanitarian Air Service in Chad Gets Last Minute Reprieve 

The cash-strapped U.N. Humanitarian Air Service in Chad has been given a last minute reprieve thanks to a $1 million donation from the U.S. Government. Without this donation, the U.N. World Food Program says it would have been forced to ground much of the service on August 15, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with no access to aid from humanitarian organizations.

The World Food Program says the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service would have been cut in half had this money not come through. WFP Spokeswoman, Emilia Cassela says the $1 million donation from the U.S. Government will keep the service in Chad going for another 30 days.

But, she warns it will shut down by 50 percent in mid-September if no other donors are found within the next 30 days. And, the rest of the service will have to close by the end of the month.

"So, that would be affecting up to 5,000 humanitarian passengers a month and, as we have already been talking about, hundreds of thousands of people in Chad who will be affected because their humanitarian workers will have a lot of difficulty getting out to the field to see them," Cassela said. "And, we are talking about deep field locations that people will not be able to get to."

Cassela says many roads in Chad are impassable due to insecurity and poor conditions. She says without the air service, one-quarter of a million Darfurian refugees from Sudan, 180,000 internally displaced persons and a further 70,000 host community members would have their humanitarian services severely reduced.

The World Food Program charters airplanes from private owners who have to be given two weeks notice about service cuts. Cassela says once that process is started and the aircraft are sent back to their owners, it becomes difficult to restart the service.

That, she says, will create problems for non-governmental organizations because they can not make plans if they do not know if they will be able to go out into the field.

"When we had to cut the Niger service and it was completely cut, we received a donation from the U.N. CERF (Central Emergency Response Fund), but the donation came too late and we had already sent the plane back. And, we still had been unable to start that service back up again." Cassela said. "We are hoping to start it up by the end of this month. But, it takes that long to start a service. It is not like turning a switch on and off. When you send an aircraft back, you have to get it back and all the permits to get it back into the country, get all the staff and crews. It is a complicated process."

Cassela says the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service will need $5.8 million dollars to keep it running until the end of the year. She says the West Africa Coastal Service, which operates in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, also is facing problems.

She says the service has run out of cash and without a new injection of money will be forced to start closing down by the end of the month.