The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has kick-started a network of global logistics hubs that it says will support the entire aid community and ensure the delivery of vital medical and humanitarian supplies to developing countries at a time when commercial air transport at a virtual standstill.
In a May 1 statement, Amer Daoudi, WFP’s COVID-19 response director, said: “The window of opportunity to surge medical and humanitarian equipment into Africa to curb the pandemic is closing fast. Our global logistics support system is up and running and this delivery marks the first of many cargo shipments we will fly to all corners of the globe.”
A WFP-contracted Boeing 757 cargo flight was the first to depart the newly established Global Humanitarian Response Hub in Liège Airport (IATA: LGG), Belgium, late on Thursday April 30 carrying almost 15 tons (16 tonnes) of medical cargo and personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It flew via Gran Canaria (LPA) to Ouagadougou (OUA) in Burkina Faso and Kotoka Airport (ACC), Ghana. Some of the cargo was then moved by road to its final destination in the Republic of Congo.
The WFP is setting up a worldwide logistics network to assist global COVID-19 efforts, rolling out a global hub-and-spoke system of air links to dispatch vital medical and humanitarian cargo and transport health workers to the front lines of the pandemic. The series of hubs are located close to where medical supplies are manufactured in Liège, Dubai, and China and will link to regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Panama, Dubai, and South Africa, where a fleet of smaller aircraft will be on standby to move cargo and personnel into priority countries. The network builds on pre-existing UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD), such as Brindisi in Italy.
The WFP said it expected to transport the equivalent of 37 Boeing 747-loads over the first six weeks from China and Malaysia to 130 countries around the world. It added that once the service is fully operational, as many as 350 cargo and 350 passenger flights could fly every month.
While the April 30 flight was the first official service from the new Liège hub, the WFP has dispatched more than 295 tons (300 tonnes) of humanitarian and medical cargo to 89 countries since late January.
The WFP is also building a regional passenger air service to ferry humanitarian and health workers across East and West Africa to overcome disruptions to commercial air services. The first flights took place in May. The service is now being expanded into the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. At the time of writing, the WFP was also preparing to set up air links with Geneva and Rome.
Mr Daoudi concluded: “To put it simply, without our logistics support, the response to COVID-19 in the world’s most fragile settings would stutter to a halt, leaving millions at risk.”