WFP announced today that an MI-26, the world’s largest helicopter, has started flying relief supplies into areas hit hardest by the 8 October earthquake, in the Neelum and Jhelum valleys of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where many isolated communities have received little assistance.
The MI-26 can carry 20 metric tons, or ten times as much as the MI-8, the standard UN helicopter used during emergency operations.
It will play a vital role in getting desperately needed aid in sufficient volumes to areas cut off by landslides and collapsed roads.
WFP currently has 17 transport helicopters deployed to move food aid and humanitarian supplies. The UN agency expects to have 22 helicopters fully operational by 10 November.
The window of opportunity to pre-position emergency relief stocks by helicopter is quickly closing, with about four weeks remaining until snow seals off mountain villages
Amer Daoudi, WFP Chief of Logistics
“With winter coming fast, we need to get as much humanitarian relief pre-positioned as we can and the MI-26 can make a real difference to our ability to do it. It’s a crucial element to this very complex operation,” said Amer Daoudi, WFP’s Chief of Logistics Service.
While the heavy-duty helicopters will boost deliveries of relief supplies, including bulldozers to help the Pakistani army clear blocked roads, their continued use will depend on more funding from the international community.
Window of opportunity
WFP has only received US$ 9.8 million of the US$ 100 million it needs to run its Pakistan air operation. The MI-26 alone costs US$ 11,000 per hour to operate.
“The window of opportunity to pre-position emergency relief stocks by helicopter is quickly closing, with about four weeks remaining until snow seals off mountain villages. Unless further contributions quickly materialize, we will not be able to deliver the needed quantities of relief aid, and will have to start phasing down our helicopter fleet,” warned Daoudi.
Helicopters are becoming more and more important to the Pakistan relief operation as landslides continue to block many access roads. Early snow is also expected, in what meteorologists predict will be an extremely harsh winter.
The Meteorological Service of Pakistan expects the snowfall to reach depths of up to 10 feet in areas north of Muzaffarabad, the epicentre of the quake, with temperatures plummeting to -20 degrees Celsius in some areas.
WFP has so far been able to deliver nearly 6,000 tons of food – using planes, helicopters, trucks, rafts and pack mules – to 750,000 people affected by the earthquake.
The helicopters have carried more than 2,800 passengers and 227 tons of cargo, including food and non-food items.
The world's biggest helicopter, the MI-26, will begin flying relief missions out of Abbotobad on 3 November, the first one on behalf of WFP and Action Contre la Faim.
Between 3 and 6 November, it will transport 135 metric tons of food aid to communities cut off by landslides in the Neelum and Jhelum valleys.
• The MI-26 can carry a load of 20 metric tons - ten times as much as the maximum load of an Mi-8, the standard UN helicopter in operation in this emergency
• The MI-26 costs US$13,000 per hour to operate (including fuel costs)
• The MI-26 consumes 3,500 litres of fuel per hour
• The MI-26 can carry a bulldozer – and the UN has been talking to the Pakistani army about lifting bulldozers into blocked valleys so landslides can be attacked from two sides
• Another four MI-26s are due to arrive in the quake-affected area in coming weeks. This is the first time this aircraft has been deployed in Pakistan
• To save time off-loading the relief supplies, they will be carried in nets slung under the helicopters