OPERATION: Urgent Airlift
At nearly 2,500km away in the WFP country office in Niamey, Niger, Halima Ida-Issa, Officer-in-Charge of the Logistics Unit, is speaking with her team members on how to deliver 240mt of rice to the city of Monrovia, Liberia.
UNHCR has registered over 182,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to Liberia. Dispersed in more than 90 villages spread over 300 km along the border, as well as in refugee camps and transit sites, they are in urgent need of food assistance. Their solution? An urgent airlift.
But this would not be just any standard air operation for the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), which is headed up by WFP. Established to quickly bring humanitarian aid workers to and from the field by operating passenger flights, this time UNHAS would lend its expertise in an exceptional way: by delivering food assistance. In the days to come, UNHAS, and the WFP aviation and logistics teams of Niger would work day and night to get live-saving food items to the many beneficiaries.
Within a week after receiving the call from their Regional Bureau in Dakar, requesting their assistance to affected populations in Monrovia, the three teams had requested and received all necessary governmental, aviation, and handling clearances and also chartered the essential cargo plane with the help of Aviation Headquarters in Rome.
Pulling extra stocks of available rice from a WFP warehouse in Niger, Halima and her colleagues transported the necessary food assistance to the airport in Niamey, Niger. But before the food assistance could leave the country, the Niger country office had to obtain a special export clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Normally the process to export food is long,” notes Halima. “It usually takes us two weeks to obtain the clearances.Due to the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, the Ministry agreed to grant the approval within two hours of receiving our request.”
Upon the arrival of food assistance to the Niamey airport on the evening of Sunday, 17 April, it immediately had to be prepared for air transport. Pallets large enough to hold nearly 40 bags of rice were packed and bundled, requiring the staff to work from midnight until early morning so that the pallets were ready to be loaded when the plane arrived. The aircraft would return again the next two mornings, picking up another 80mt of rice each time – meaning that staff would again work from evening until morning.
“It is a huge job to prepare and load 80mt of rice,” explains Pierre Lucas, Head of UNHAS Niger. “The first night we realized we were short of manpower, and so we had to hire 20 more workers to help us the next two nights.”
Coordinating all efforts at the airport, the aviation team worked with the crew to organize the loading of food assistance, liaised with civil aviation authorities, and acted as the link between Niamey and Monrovia, providing exact departure/arrival times and the cargo list.
Although this was a very demanding job, Pierre is the first to tell you that it would not have been possible if it were not for the collective collaboration and hard work of many WFP staff members around the globe. From the Regional Bureau in Dakar, to the aviation and logistics team in Niger to Headquarters in Rome, the nature of logistics is always a team effort.
*All photos credited to WFP/Niels Olsen