UN food agency deploys world's largest helicopter for Pakistani quake relief
3 November 2005 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that an MI-26, the world’s largest helicopter capable of lifting 10 times the previous loads, has started flying relief supplies into areas hit hardest the devastating Pakistani earthquake, but more international funding is still urgently needed.
“With winter coming fast, we need to get as much humanitarian relief pre-positioned as we can and the MI-26 can make a real difference to our ability to do it. It’s a crucial element to this very complex operation,” WFP’s Chief of Logistics Service Amer Daoudi said.
“The window of opportunity… is quickly closing, with about four weeks remaining until snow seals off mountain villages. Unless further contributions quickly materialize, we will not be able to deliver the needed quantities of relief aid, and will have to start phasing down our helicopter fleet,” Mr. Daoudi warned.
In another step get life-saving tents, blankets and stoves to survivors before winter strikes, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have agreed to extend and expand their two-week-old airlift. UNHCR is delivering more than half a million blankets, and over 20,000 tents.
Five agency emergency teams are on the ground working with partners to get all relief items transported and distributed to the neediest survivors. So far, more than 8,500 tents have been distributed.
The MI-26, which can carry 20 tons, or 10 times as much as the MI-8, the standard UN helicopter used during emergency operations, will play a vital role in getting desperately needed aid in sufficient volumes to areas cut off by landslides and collapsed roads.
While the heavy-duty helicopters will boost deliveries of relief supplies, including bulldozers to help the Pakistani army clear blocked roads, their continued use depends on more funding. WFP has only received $9.8 million of the $100 million it needs to run its Pakistani air operation. The MI-26 alone costs $11,000 per hour to operate.
WFP currently has 17 transport helicopters deployed to move food aid and humanitarian supplies and expects to have 22 helicopters fully operational by 10 November to bolster its relief efforts following the 8 October quake, which has so far killed 73,000 people, injured 69,000 more and left 3.2 million others homeless and in need of medical care.
The agency has so far been able to deliver nearly 6,000 tons of food by plane, helicopter, truck, raft and pack mules to 750,000 quake victims.
The Meteorological Service of Pakistan expects snowfall to reach depths of up to 10 feet in areas north of Muzaffarabad, epicentre of the quake, with temperatures plummeting to -20 degrees Celsius in some areas.
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