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Story by World Food Programme January 15th, 2016

A photo-story by Tomson Phiri and Cordula Ungerank

When disaster strikes and the humanitarian community needs to reach affected areas, it can count on the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS).

UNHAS provides passenger and light cargo services to some of the world‘s most remote and challenging locations that would otherwise be difficult to reach by land due to vast distances, limited infrastructure and insecurity.

Photo:WFP/Mattia Bugatto

Responding to Sudden Onset Emergencies

Four days after Nepal’s first earthquake on 25 April 2015, UNHAS started flying humanitarian workers and relief materials to inaccessible villages in the Himalayan nation.

Without the service, aid workers would have been unable to provide support to remote communities badly affected by the earthquakes.

Photo:WFP/Marco Frattini
Photo:WFP/Mattia Bugatto
Photo:WFP/Angeli Mendoza

Supporting Complex Emergencies

South Sudan continues to face considerable humanitarian challenges. The world’s youngest nation is also one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

The needs are immense and humanitarian workers are often required to access deep-field locations to assist the most vulnerable. Here,

UNHAS operates its largest humanitarian air operation, enabling more than 8,000 aid workers from over 230 organizations to access 69 hard-to-reach destinations monthly.

Photo:WFP/Giulio d'Adamo
Photo:WFP/Muamer Sehic
Photo:WFP/Giulio d'Adamo

Transporting Aid Workers in Insecure Locations

It is difficult for humanitarian personnel to provide adequate assistance to people in areas besieged by conflict. UNHAS provides a ready mechanism to perform emergency medical and security evacuations.

“UNHAS has been the lifeline for many people confronted with humanitarian crises around the world,” says Eric Perdison, Acting Chief of WFP Aviation Service. “In many contexts, the service is especially important to provide access and reliable evacuation capacity for the aid workers who strive to restore hope to thousands of people affected by the violence.”

UNHAS ensures safe and reliable air transport services to the humanitarian community in areas reeling from insurgent attacks in Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The service is also critical in facilitating aid workers’ travel throughout the Central African Republic, where unrest has displaced multitudes of people.

Photo:WFP/Alexis Masciarelli
Photo: Mentor Initiative/Laurent Dumas

Facilitating Relief Activities

Sudan is one of the world’s longest running humanitarian crisis. With limited infrastructure, vast distances, perennial flooding and insecurity on the roads, air transport is the only secure transport option for aid workers.

The UNHAS flight schedule offers prompt flight connections to remote destinations in the country’s restive Darfur region.

In Mauritania, UNHAS is the sole means of transportation for humanitarians travelling to the M’bera Refugee Camp in Bassikonou, a scrubland in the Hodh el Chargui region near the border with Mali.

Photo:WFP/Agron Dragaj
Photo:WFP/Agron Dragaj
Photo:WFP/Agron Dragaj

Response to Health Crises

In August 2014, to help support the medical response to stop the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease, UNHAS began facilitating the rapid deployment of humanitarian staff and the delivery of light cargo.

It operated a fleet of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to various key locations, including the capitals of the three most affected countries: Conakry in Guinea, Monrovia in Liberia and Freetown in Sierra Leone.

The service remains crucial to ongoing efforts to ensure zero Ebola cases as part of the Phase Three response in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Photo:WFP/Ricci Shryock
Photo:WFP/Rein Skullerud
Photo:WFP/Jef Cuche

Donor Support

UNHAS also provides humanitarian passenger services in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Yemen. UNHAS relies on voluntary contributions to fund its operations.

While the service recovers some costs through cost-recovery mechanisms and nominal booking fees where possible, they are not enough to sustain activities.

The service is grateful for donors’ support for its operations, including from the European Commission‘s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the United Kingdom Department of International Development.

To ensure UNHAS is able to continue serving the humanitarian community, it requires approximately US$249 million for its 2016 budget.

Photo:WFP/George Fominyen