The United Nations World Food Program says it may have to ground a vital humanitarian air service to parts of Africa this month because of a severe funding shortage. The WFP says some of the poorest countries in Africa will be deprived of critical assistance, unless donations are immediately received to keep the air service going.



The United Nations World Food Program says Chad could be the first country to fall victim to this funding crisis. The humanitarian aid agency says its air service to the war-torn Central African country will run out of money by August 15. And, this will force the agency to ground flights carrying aid workers to camps for refugees and internally displaced people.



WFP Spokeswoman Emilia Casella says the air service flies about 4,000 humanitarian aid workers every month to 10 destinations in Chad. She says the workers represent 100 organizations. And, they provide aid to 250,000 refugees from Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur and 180,000 internally displaced people.



"They said, without this service, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and agencies will be unable to reach operation areas in the east and south of the country, and it is an area that is particularly insecure and difficult," said Casella. "And, in many of these areas, either the roads are impassable due to insecurity or due to poor weather and poor road conditions."



The UN Humanitarian Air Service flies humanitarian workers to some of the hardest-to-reach emergency operations in the world. It provides vital assistance for hundreds of thousands of victims of conflict and natural disasters in remote, inaccessible areas.

The service flies in the doctors needed to care for the sick and the injured. It transports the water engineers that build the wells that provide clean water. And it brings in the people who provide food for the hungry.

Casella says the amount of money needed to keep this service going is relatively small. She says only $6.7 million is needed to maintain the air service in Chad until the end of the year.



Casella says the service to the West African coastal region also is under threat. She says flights to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will have to be cut by the end of the month because of lack of money.



"The difficulty with that service is there is actually only one plane," said Casella. "So, if we cannot afford to keep the plane in the air, those countries will cease to have any way to get humanitarian workers to very important field operations. And, what I am talking about is really the ability of all of my colleagues, organizations here as well as NGOs to get to the people who need help."

Casella says only $3.3 million dollars is needed to keep the plane flying to these West African countries until the end of the year. She considers this a bargain considering the humanitarian returns.