Ethiopia: No more crucial plane services for organizations

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The United Nation Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), a vital air service for humanitarian agencies including UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and donor representatives, has threatened to terminate their services in Ethiopia in the next few weeks.

UNHAS and their user groups have warned in a joint press release issued on October 21, 2009 that they have run out of funds. They claim that their operations could be affected in a matter of weeks putting the lives of Ethiopian beneficiaries, particularly residents of the Somali Regional state on the line. “UNHAS service urgently requires 1.34 million US dollars in order to continue its operation until March 2010” said the press release.

Without the funds, UNHAS will be forced to cut its flight services by the end of October. The aviation service risks being entirely grounded by end of November, the release noted.

UNHAS, run by the World Food Program (WFP) on behalf of the entire humanitarian community, transports humanitarian workers, journalists, donors, among others, to some of the most remote and difficult areas of the world. Its Ethiopian service has been transporting an average of 800 aid workers for 40 organizations each month.

As well as providing transport for aid workers, the humanitarian air service is also crucial for “medical and security evacuations”, said Mohamed Diab, WFP Ethiopian country director. “A disruption of these operations will have very serious consequences for the people in need of humanitarian assistance, as well as for the safety and security of our staffs,” he stressed on the likely consequences.

Prime Minister (PM) Meles Zenawi, who recently appeared before parliament reprimanded humanitarian organizations, working to avert the country’s famine, for inflating the number the peoples in need of food. “Various ‘actors’ of the food aid industry are exaggerating the situation,” he said.

Accusing ‘industry actors’; from food producers to shipping companies as well as local transporters, of forging a campaign that deliberately inflates the number people of in need of emergency food assistance, aimed at making profits, Meles told Members of Parliament not to be deceived by the fabricated numbers.

UNHAS and its partners’ press release come only a week after the PM’s accusations. According to a senior government official who demanded anonimity saying he is not authorized to give official statements., “this seems like a response to (the PM’s) words (Meles Zenawi’s inflation accusation, last week)”.

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