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Delivering Precious Cargo In Precarious Conditions

By Hpanchal on March 4, 2013

Rome-based U.N. World Food Programme, which manages the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS), is historically busy arranging airlifts to deliver desperately needed food, medicine and equipment to often remote regions of the world when natural disaster or political strife occur. In many cases, the agency is tasked with delivering food to regions that were fragile even before natural calamities struck.

The WFP experienced a busy 2012, and 2013 is shaping up to be equally challenging.

The WFP/UNHAS provides humanitarian air service in 13 countries, working with relief agencies and the U.S. In many cases, this involves flying into regions not served by passenger airlines and lacking passenger and cargo-handling infrastructure.

Oleh Maslyukov heads the air-transport unit for the WFP and is in charge of planning the airlifts. He says one of the more challenging recent airlifts involved flights to provide assistance in the Philippines following a typhoon last December. The WFP chartered four flights from Kuala Lumpur to Davao, where the airport doesn’t have cargo equipment to serve big freighters.

“So we were limited to smaller freighters such as 727s and 737s, and we were able to bring in 65 tonnes on four flights,” Maslyukov says.

Last year’s efforts included low-altitude food drops in south Sudan.

“It’s a last resort method of food delivery,” Maslyukov says. “We used two cargo aircraft for gravity drops in an area completely cut off from roads. There was no infrastructure.”

Challenges of organizing such critical airlifts are primarily time-related and often involve working around underdeveloped or damaged local infrastructure.

“We have to deliver this cargo to the affected area as quickly as possible,” Maslyukov says. “We often face limitations when the local service providers lack appropriate equipment. The number of airlifts we do each year depends on the situation. The causes can be weather phenomena like typhoons, or we can be moving refugees for political reasons. The number goes up and down each year depending on global situations.”

Arranging to have the right people at the right place is paramount to a successful airlift. This involves working with an ever-growing list of accredited service providers and air brokers.

“It’s important to have professional people who know what to do,” Maslyukov says. “You may have experienced pilots, but you also need to have a correct list of service providers. It’s important to rely on these people. They can be global or regional service providers for cargo handling and fuel. They all contribute to a successful airlift.”

WFP Aviation’s ongoing efforts also provide crucial cargo bound for the vulnerable Syrian population on behalf of the humanitarian community. The WFP is scaling up its food aid operations in the region to assist a growing number of people. Due to the situation in Syria, food and other cargo is being pre-positioned in neighboring Turkey and nearby Oman. Other potential relief operations this year may include food delivery to West African nations, including war-torn Mali.

One company with a long history in humanitarian logistics is UPS, which works with several relief agency partners. The majority of UPS’s 2012 humanitarian airlift efforts focused on the Sahel region of Africa which stretches across the middle of the continent and includes parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.

“One of our efforts involved sponsoring charter flights in response to the severe drought that affected more than 11 million civilians in the Sahel region,” says Esther Ndichu, humanitarian supply chain director at UPS. “ n April 2012, Dan Brutto, the president of UPS International, committed two charters to support organizations responding to the drought. To aid in this effort, UPS partnered with InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to identify organizations that were active in the region and to consolidate freight from multiple organizations.”

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