The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has kick-started a network of global logistics hubs to support the entire aid community and ensure the delivery of vital medical and humanitarian supplies to developing countries at a time when commercial air transport is at virtual standstill.
In a statement on May 1, WFP’s COVID-19 Response Director Amer Daoudi said, “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.”
A WFP-contracted Boeing 757 cargo flight departed the newly-established Global Humanitarian Response Hub in Liège Airport (LGG), Belgium, late on Thursday April 30 carrying almost 16 tonnes of medical cargo and personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It flew via Gran Canaria (LPA) to Ouagadougou (OUA) Burkina Faso and Kotoka Airport (ACC) Ghana. Some of this cargo will then be moved to its final destination in the Republic of Congo.
WFP is setting up a world-wide logistics network to assist global COVID-19 efforts, rolling out a global hub-and-spoke system of air links to dispatch vital medical and humanitarian cargo and transport health workers to the front lines of the pandemic.
The Global Humanitarian Response Hubs are located close to where medical supplies are manufactured in Liège, Dubai, and China and links to regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Panama, Dubai, and South Africa, where a fleet of smaller aircraft are on standby to move cargo and personnel into priority countries.
The network builds on pre-existing UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD) – including one at Brindisi in Italy.
WFP expects to transport the equivalent of 37 Boeing 747 loads over the next six weeks from China and Malaysia to 130 countries around the world. Once the service is fully up and running, as many as 350 cargo and another 350 passenger flights could fly every month.
While this flight is the first from the new hub in Liège, the WFP has previously dispatched more than 300 tonnes of humanitarian and medical cargo to 89 countries, since late January, supporting governments and health partners in their response to COVID-19. These shipments include masks, gloves, ventilators, testing kits and thermometers.
WFP is also building a regional passenger air service to ferry humanitarian and health workers across East and West Africa to overcome disruptions to commercial air services, with the first flights expected in coming days. The service will be expanded to the Middle East, Latin America and Asia soon. WFP also stands ready to set up air links with Geneva and Rome if commercial services are disrupted.
Daoudi expressed, “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.”
WFP appealed for an initial US$350 million to kick-start global common logistics services, a call echoed by humanitarian partners in April, who highlighted the urgency of these vital WFP-led efforts.
As part of a global appeal to raise US$2 billion for the COVID-19 response launched by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on March 25, WFP called for US$350 million to support its common aviation, shipping, storage and transport and engineering services that are vital to the entire humanitarian response to the pandemic.