WFP, Ethiopian airlines start air service for humanitarian workers in COVID-19 response

ADDIS ABABA, May 3 (EI) — The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ethiopian Airlines Group on Saturday commenced a continental air transport service for humanitarian workers responding the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa as part of an initiative to mitigate the impact of reduced commercial flight availability amid travel restrictions and decreased demand.

On Saturday, the maiden flight for humanitarian workers left Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport, in the capital Addis Ababa and flew to Kotoka International Airport in Accra, capital of Ghana as part of the newly launched initiative, which envisaged the opening of a new passenger service between a network of regional hubs for the COVID-19 response.

The humanitarian air transport service, which is jointly run by the WFP and Ethiopia’s flag carrier, is available for United Nations and non-governmental organization experts working in the global pandemic response, it was noted.

According to the WFP, the “dedicated fleet” flies humanitarian workers to crisis areas amid reduced commercial flight availability due to travel restrictions and decreased demand.

The initiative envisaged transporting workers and medical cargo to the COVID-19 frontlines with flights to and from hubs and a fleet of smaller aircraft moving both cargo and personnel on to priority countries.

“Key stakeholders helped establish this vital initiative in Addis Ababa,” said Steven Were Omamo, WFP Country Director and Representative in Ethiopia, during the event marking the commencement of the humanitarian flight service to support the COVID-19 response efforts.

“The Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian Airlines Group proved their commitment to fighting the pandemic by setting up and maintaining this life-saving air-link,” Omamo added.

Ethiopia and Ghana both host regional hubs, which is said to be part of a new network of hubs also set up by WFP in Malaysia, Panama, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

The service ensures humanitarian organizations’ to provide the much-needed humanitarian workers and cargo “needed to sustain assistance operations that millions of vulnerable people depend on across Africa,” the WFP said in a statement published on Saturday.

The WFP has also established three global Humanitarian Air Hubs in the Chinese city Guangzhou, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Belgium’s Liege.

In March, the WFP had opened the Addis Ababa Air Hub at the Bole Airport, where 25 WFP aviation and logistics staff manage a 24-hour medical equipment operation. The WFP staff members also organize warehouse space for dry bulk, temperature-controlled and cold storage cargo and onward flights.

As part of a global appeal to raise 2 billion U.S. dollars for the COVID-19 response launched by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on March 25, the WFP also called for 350 million U.S. dollars to support its common aviation, shipping, storage and transport and engineering services, saying the services “are vital to the entire humanitarian response to the pandemic.”

(Photo -WFP Ethiopia Office)

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