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The World Food Program runs the Humanitarian Air Service (HAS), which are those white UN transport aircraft that you see braving humanitarian emergencies in far off places on earth. HAS is funded in part by charging fees to other humanitarian agencies for service. But the bulk of its operating budget comes from voluntary contributions from member states. This year, however, the funds just are not keeping pace with the number of global humanitarian emergencies. To date, donors have only provided $13.2 million in confirmed contributions to WFP-HAS, or about 17 % of the required $77 million. (The United States has contributed $3.25 million, the European Commission $4.5 million.)

What does this shortfall mean? WFP today announced immediate cuts to its Sudan fleet, where HAS transports thousands of aid workers to remote locations in Darfur where it is too dangerous to travel by road. Flights will not be resumed unless the WFP comes up with $20 million by Sunday. Kenro Oshidari, the WFP’s representative in Sudan, is not pleased.

“Undoubtedly, this is a blow to the humanitarian effort in Sudan. The impact will be felt by vulnerable people who depend on the international community for crucial services,” he said, adding the cuts will also reduce the ability to respond to urgent medical evacuation requests and staff relocations because of insecurity. Last year, WFP-HAS carried out 267 security and medical evacuations.

Unless member states immediate pony up the cash, humanitarian access to much of Darfur will be seriously disrupted. Perhaps this is finally the time to put our money where out mouth is?

(Photo retrieved from WFP here.)

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