Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - The WFP has started a helicopter service linking the refugee camps in Dolo Ado with the town of Gode, in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a critical connection that will keep heavy rainfall from disrupting humanitarian services to the camps.
Heavy rains and a flooded airstrip have frequently prevented the regular UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights using fixed-wing aircraft from landing in Dolo Ado.
The helicopter operation is financed by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department, the UN agency has said.
“We are deeply grateful to the European Union for responding so quickly and generously to this urgent situation,” Stanlake Samkange, WFP’s Regional Director for East and Central Africa, said in a news dispatch from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“This helicopter service is not only essential to provide the necessary assistance to Somali refugees in Dolo Ado but it will also allow us to organize medical evacuations if needed.”
The MI-8 helicopter can carry up to 19 passengers or three tons of cargo. It will fly for the next two weeks between Gode in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and Dolo Ado, when weather conditions prevent the regular fixed-wing planes from landing.
Until now, if the airstrip was closed, humanitarian workers were instead forced to make a two-day drive from Addis Ababa – when road conditions allowed it. This has affected humanitarian operations in Dolo Ado for the last several weeks.
"When responding to emergencies, logistics is a critical element. This is why the European Commission is funding two civilian helicopters to ease access to crises zones around the world," said Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner responsible for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.
"The rapid deployment of one helicopter to southern Ethiopia will ensure that humanitarian operations in Dolo Ado continue to run smoothly," Georgieva noted.
This is one of the many humanitarian activities undertaken by the international community in a bid to alleviate the suffering of the Somali people.
Somalia's western neighbour has gone a step further and deployed troops to search and destroy the Al Shabaab militia, which is responsible for piracy in the East African coastline and hijacking of tourists along the Kenyan coast and demands for ransom to secure their release.
Kenya houses thousands of Somali refugees and disgusted by the criminals' acts which included grenade attacks on Kenyan targets, has teamed up with Somalia's Transition Federal Government forces in rooting out Al Shabaab.
The operation against the outlawed militia, said to have links with Al Qaeda, has entered the sixth week and has the backing the African Union, United Nations and the Inter Governmental Authority of Development (IGAAD).
The helicopter is part of the Regional Aviation Emergency Response Capacity based in Uganda, which WFP recently established as part of its global emergency response programme.
It allows reduced response time during an emergency, ensuring that helicopters are rapidly made available to transport humanitarian workers and deliver cargo when an area is inaccessible to regular aircraft.
The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department is the main donor to this project.
-0- PANA DJ/BOS 6Dec2011