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Helicopters Needed to Transport Food in Pakistan

The World Food Program is appealing for more helicopters so it can deliver desperately needed food to Pakistani flood victims who are cut off from relief. WFP says it has been able to reach less than one-quarter of those in need of food assistance.

The World Food Program reports it has been able to reach 1.2 million flood victims with a one-month ration of food, but it notes this is far below the six million people cut off from access and in need of assistance.

The catastrophic floods that have engulfed large swathes of Pakistani territory have destroyed roads and bridges making it impossible for relief trucks to reach many areas.

The World Food Program has been airlifting food to inaccessible places, when possible, by helicopter. WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella says the Pakistani military has made 10 helicopters available to the agency.

She says WFP soon will have five additional helicopters at its disposal. She says this will be helpful, but still not enough.

"We could be using a lot more helicopters if they become available to us," said Casella. "I do not have myself an inventory of how many helicopters are currently in the territory of Pakistan… But, certainly as soon as we get any other air assets, they will be immediately in the air delivering food and other supplies as long as the weather permits us to do that."

The weather has been dogging this relief operation ever since the monsoon rains arrived three weeks ago. On good days, Casella says the planes can fly. But, on bad weather days, the planes are grounded, complicating the relief effort.

She says each helicopter can ferry about three metric tons of food. She says this is not a large amount, so helicopters have to make numerous rotations a day to increase food deliveries to flood-stricken communities.

"The point is too, we need the helicopters now," Casella added. "We need the helicopters at this stage of the emergency. As the waters recede, we will not need the helicopters as much anymore. We will be able to start using roads. Bridges will be rebuilt and access will be had… But, for now, we need the helicopters for the locations that are cut off. And, I do not have a figure for how many helicopters. You could probably bring in a lot of helicopters and we would use them all."

Official estimates put the number of people affected by the floods at 20 million, with nearly 7.5 million severely affected. These are the people who escaped the floodwaters with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The emergency food operation is costly. The World Food Program has appealed for $150 million to provide food aid over the next three months. It says it has received nearly half that amount.