By Tomson Phiri — 4 March 2016
Not all airlines would marvel at the idea of landing a plane in Yemen’s war-torn capital Sana’a, let alone to repeat the feat not once, but regularly over a sustained period. But, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service often operates flights to places commercial carriers would never go. In 2015, as major airlines pulled out of Yemen citing growing unrest, UNHAS Yemen was just being activated. Almost one year later and several flights down the line, the service has extended its activities in order to better respond to needs.
Sana’a – Humanitarian access is a critical component to supporting the millions of Yemenis in dire need of assistance. The nature of the conflict has significantly impacted the prevailing security on the ground, making roads impassable and requiring aid workers to find alternative ways to reach those in need with essential food, medicines and other relief items. In late February, WFP again took to the skies to ensure humanitarians can more frequently access the Yemeni capital of Sana’a.
Increased Humanitarian Access
The newly launched ‘Amman service’ is UNHAS’ most recent move to provide greater access, against a perilous backdrop of soaring humanitarian needs. Operated twice weekly from Djibouti, the route goes via Sana’a on Mondays with a return trip to Djibouti through Sana’a on Tuesdays. As an interim measure until the resumption of services by viable commercial air carriers, UNHAS flights are a welcome relief to the thousands of aid workers working in Yemen.
A Challenging Environment
Yemen has been embroiled in a bitter war since fighting broke out between Houthis and government forces in late March 2015. As the crisis burgeons, four out of five Yemenis require some form of aid, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.
‘‘It’s hard to imagine what the situation coxuld have been,’’ said Eric Perdison, Acting Chief of WFP’s Aviation Service. ‘‘UNHAS is the only way by which aid workers can safely access the country.’’
Reaching More People Everyday
Since April 2015, UNHAS has transported over 3,300 humanitarian personnel into and out of the country, and airlifted more than 11,000 kg of light cargo, such as essential medicines, enabling 45 humanitarian entities to deliver life-saving assistance. UNHAS also serves as stand-by capacity for possible evacuation of humanitarian staff if required.