Mona and the wings that save lives

A behind-the-scenes look at operations of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) in Mali

Mona oversees operations at Mopti. Photo: WFP / Virgo EDGAR NGARBAROUM.

It’s 10 am at Sevaré Airport, Mopti region (central Mali). Batouroumona DIARRA (Mona), Air movements assistant reviews the flight manifest of passengers departing from Mopti and checks the latest weather forecast. The UNHAS operated aircraft from Timbuktu is expected to land shortly in Sevare before continuing its route to Bamako, the capital of Mali.

About half an hour later, the aircraft lands in Sevare. Mona and her colleague Keriba Samaké are busy handling the transit, coordinating dispatch with airport authorities and pilots, supervising luggage transfers and aircraft refueling. They need to act fast as the airplane has to return to Bamako on time.

When the airplane has been refueled and ready for the next flight, Mona returns to the passengers’ transit hall. She picks up the manifest and carefully verifies the identity of each passenger, the number and weight of their luggage.

“In aviation, precision is key!,” says Mona. “Every single detail matters to offer the best service to our clients and through them to our fellow citizens who are in need of humanitarian assistance.”

Mona has been working with UNHAS since 2013. She believes her work is contributing to dispel the perception in her country that aviation is a men’s only field.

“It is my passion…This is also my contribution to the reconstruction of my country,” she adds.

Mona’s job has not always been easy. There have been days when she has had to interrupt the cooking of dinner to rush to the airport at 6 p.m. because the airplane that had left Mopti in the afternoon could not land in Bamako due to poor weather and had to return to Mopti.

Fortunately, her family has been very supportive. “My husband, in particular, understands that my job is essential to saving lives of thousands of people and this allows me do my job with peace of mind,” says Mona.

Nothing without UNHAS

In the waiting room, passengers, mostly aid workers, discuss the current situation in the country, including the challenges they face in accessing crisis-affected populations in northern and central Mali.

“I don’t know what we would do without UNHAS, says Ahmed Aida, head of the UNICEF office in Mopti region. He is among the passengers waiting to board the flight. He recognizes the importance of UNHAS in enabling humanitarian workers to reach the people they have to serve. “Given the current situation in central Mali and the access issues…this service is very flexible especially in facilitating transport of medicine, food and other essentials.”

In addition to connecting humanitarian actors to vulnerable populations, UNHAS services also play a key role in ensuring users’ safety and security. Due to persistent insecurity, central Mali remains difficult to access by road. Banditry attacks and robbery incidents are regularly reported in the area.

UNHAS service provides vital air transport to 10 destinations in Mali allowing the humanitarian community (UN agencies, national and international NGOs, donors, civil society organizations) to provide assistance to vulnerable populations in the country. In 2019, the service transported 12,505 passengers from 152 organizations and 26,578 kg of cargo (food, medicine, and more).

This service is funded by the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO), Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID /OFDA).

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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