UN launches new humanitarian air service in Central African Republic

“In a country where operations are complicated by enormous distances and insecurity along many roads, having air capacity will boost United Nations and NGO (non-governmental organization) efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance at a time when the emergency in the north is reaching alarming levels,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Toby Lanzer said.In his most recent report on CAR last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said both internal and outside factors were undermining security, in particular on the borders with Chad and the Sudan, directly threatening the impoverished country’s stability.UN officials say almost a quarter of a million people in the north have been forced to flee their homes in recent months because of “severe levels of violence” perpetrated by armed groups, including Government soldiers. Today’s inaugural flight left the capital city, Bangui, for one of the worst affected areas, Kaga Bandoro, where fighting has displaced thousands of people just in the past three weeks. Onboard were members of a joint UN, International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and NGO team, which will assess the situation and plan an immediate response. “It is particularly good to see NGOs, the ICRC, and UN agencies on the mission together,” Mr. Lanzer said.The air service, managed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), consists of a 10-seater Caravan propeller aircraft and offers daily flights to destinations across the country, depending on needs. There will also be a weekly flight to Yaoundé, in neighbouring Cameroon, where many CAR donors are represented, affording better access for the country, which currently sees only one flight to Europe per week.The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) operates similar schemes in 15 other countries, including Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Sudan. Its arrival in CAR has been possible thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the multi-million-dollar UN mechanism set up this year to provide funding for humanitarian activities in response to sudden-onset and under-funded emergencies. Some $5.5 million from the CERF has been allocated to critically under-funded programmes in CAR in 2006. read more