May 02, 2020: United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)-contracted B757 cargo flight departed from the newly-established Global Humanitarian Response Hub in Liège, Belgium on April 30, carrying almost 16 metric tonnes of medical cargo and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. The goods were carried on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) destined for Burkina Faso and Ghana. Some of this cargo will then be moved to its final destination in the Republic of Congo.

While this flight is the first from the new hub in Liège, WFP has dispatched more than 300 metric tonnes of humanitarian and medical cargo to 89 countries, since late January, supporting governments and health partners in their response to Covid-19. These shipments include masks, gloves, ventilators, testing kits, and thermometers.

WFP expects to transport the equivalent of 37 B747 planeloads over the next six weeks from China and Malaysia to 130 countries around the world. Once the service is fully up and running, as many as 350 cargo and another 350 passenger flights could fly every month.

“The window of opportunity to surge medical and humanitarian equipment into Africa to curb the pandemic is closing fast,” said Amer Daoudi, WFP’s Covid-19 response director. “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,” he added.

WFP is setting up the logistics backbone for global Covid-19 efforts, rolling out a global hub-and-spokes system of air links to dispatch vital medical and humanitarian cargo and transport health workers to the front lines of the pandemic. Global Humanitarian Response Hubs located close to where medical supplies are manufactured in Liège, Dubai, and China 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) - including Brindisi in Italy.

WFP is also mounting a regional passenger air service to ferry humanitarian and health workers across East and West Africa to overcome disruptions to commercial air services, with the first flights expected in coming days. The service will be expanded to the Middle East, Latin America and Asia soon. WFP also stands ready to set up air links with Geneva and Rome if commercial services are disrupted.

“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,” Daoudi added.

WFP appealed for an initial $350 million to kick-start global common logistics services, a call echoed by humanitarian partners in April, who highlighted the urgency of these vital WFP-led efforts.

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