Keeping planes in the sky above Ethiopia during coronavirus

Made by possible thanks to EU Humanitarian Aid

Jun 5, 2020 · 3 min read

Story by Melese Awoke

Passengers board an UNHAS flight. Photo: WFP

Few of us could have imagined at the start of the year that a virus would affect everyone on the planet to some degree and change life as we know it. Coronavirus of COVID-19 is not just impacting the health of individuals around the globe, but it’s having detrimental knock-on effects on the infrastructure, economy, security and social protection mechanisms of every country too.

In some countries already struggling to get by, like Ethiopia, the World Food Programme (WFP)’s Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) has a unique role to play. Due to a lack of reliable and alternative means of transport, insecurity and vast distances, UNHAS is responsible for transporting humanitarian workers and cargo throughout Ethiopia, allowing life-saving work to continue.

As the Ethiopian government has introduced travel restrictions and stay-at-home measures, the demand for the UNHAS passenger service has diminished. However, the demand for cargo movements has increased.

“We’re humanitarians, so whether we’re moving workers or boxes of COVID-19 testing kits, we’re doing our job,” said Lemlem Getachew, WFP’s Air Movement Officer. “Our wings save lives.”

Cargo is loaded onto an UNHAS plane at Addis Ababa Airport. Photos: WFP

UNHAS is at the forefront of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Day in day out, their planes are flying humanitarians and their new tools, such as personal protective equipment and gallons of hand sanitizer, to each corner of the country. Each plane also goes through a rigorous deep clean after each rotation and passengers and crew have their temperatures checked before boarding.

In recent days, WFP has provided that service to Humedica, International Medical Corps, Save The Children, UNHCR and WFP. Without UNHAS, they would have no way of reaching remote destinations such as Dollo Ado, Gode, Melkadida and Warder. On average, 35 different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies use the service each month.

“In addition to our seven regular destinations, we’ve also deployed aircraft to Djibouti to transport medical supplies,” continued Lemlem. “Inside Ethiopia, we’ve moved 9,400 kilograms of critical supplies in the last two months.”

There’s no telling how long we will have to live with the coronavirus, and the demand for UNHAS in Ethiopia is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future. Thankfully generous contributions from EU humanitarian aid, ensure that WFP can maintain this lifeline in 2020.

“Our strength lies in our flexibility to adapt to a continually changing context and our commitment to the safety and well-being of all humanitarian and development actors, who rely on us to fulfill their mandates,” says Lemlem.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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