The United Nations recently set up a Global Humanitarian Response Hub at Liège Airport, Belgium, as part of its World Food Program (WFP) global hub and spoke network to ensure a supply of vital medical and humanitarian goods to those countries most in need. The hub kicked off operations on Thursday, 30APR20, with a first cargo flight headed to Burkino Faso and Ghana.
Though this was the first such flight to depart the Liège hub on behalf of WFP, it is the latest in series of operations that have taken place since the end of January, delivering over 300 tons
of urgently needed humanitarian and medical supplies to 89 countries. An emergency supply chain to governments and medical bodies, of masks, gloves, ventilators, testing kits and thermometers,
given that most scheduled cargo capacities have been largely impacted by COVID-19-induced fleet groundings.
The first in a series
The latest WFP flight was a contracted B757 laden with around 16 tons of medical cargo and personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, flying on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Upon reaching destinations in Burkina Faso and Ghana, some of the cargo was onforwarded to final destination Republic of Congo. The African continent, which – according to the latest CLIVE stats – has lost around 70% of its capacity to Europe since the start of the pandemic, is starting to see a rapid spike in infections – mainly in 10 countries currently accounting for 84% of all COVID-19 cases: South Africa, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Niger, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. Burkino Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among 6 African countries with particularly high mortality rates of 6.6% and 6.1% respectively.
Amer Daoudi, WFP’s COVID-19 Response Director, underlined: “The window of opportunity to surge medical and humanitarian equipment into Africa to curb the pandemic is closing fast. Our global logistics support system is up-and-running, and this delivery marks the first of many cargo shipments we will fly to all corners of the globe.”
Linking the world in global supplies
Liège, Belgium, is one of a recently established network of Global Humanitarian Hubs, which includes Guangzhou, China, and Dubai, UAE. These locations were selected since they are close to manufacturers of medical supplies, and they act as a hub-and-spoke system feeding into regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Panama, and South Africa. Smaller aircraft are on standby at these locations, to transport goods and personnel to countries most in need. Similar to the UN’s Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD), WFS’ aim is to create a logistics backbone to support global COVID-19 efforts, by dispatching vital medical and humanitarian cargo and health workers to the front lines of the pandemic.
Over the next 6 weeks, the equivalent of around 37 B747 planeloads are expected to be transported from China and Malaysia to 130 countries around the world, with a forecasted peak of 350 cargo plus 350 passenger flights per month once the network is fully operational.
US$350 million to kick-start global common logistics service
Already back on 25MAR20, as part of a global United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) appeal to raise USS$ 2 billion for COVID-19 response, the WFP called for US$350 million to support vital aviation, shipping, storage and transport, as well as engineering services in areas affected by the pandemic.
Urgently required funding to help those aid agencies and health authorities that have been struggling to get supplies to fragile settings, because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic: disrupted global supply chains, the collapse of commercial air travel, and border closures. Hence, WFP is focusing on getting not only medical and humanitarian supplies to these fragile locations, but also on arranging a regional passenger air service to enable humanitarian and health workers to get across East and West Africa, now that commercial air services are currently hindered. The first flights are expected to start in the next few days, and the service is planned to soon be extended to the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.
“To put it simply – without our logistics support, the response to COVID-19 in the world’s most fragile settings would stutter to a halt, leaving millions at risk,” Daoudi added.
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