DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – The United Nations food agency warned Thursday that without immediate funding its global transport system will stop delivering thousands of tons of masks, gloves and other critical equipment to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic to 132 countries by the third week of July.
Amer Daoudi, the World Food Program’s director of operations and COVID-19 response, told a video press conference that its aircraft have also transported 2,600 humanitarian and health workers free of charge to 40 destinations across Africa, Asia and the Middle East since the pandemic began, and that service will also come to a halt.
“As the virus continues to accelerate across many parts of the world, as we are seeing, these services become more and more vital and important,” he said.
To meet the demand, he said the Rome-based WFP requested US$965 million to sustain its transport services through 2020.
But so far it has received about $132 million – only 14 per cent – even though “the COVID-19 virus is not slowing down” and “the entire humanitarian and health community is relying on WFP’s logistic services now more than ever,” Daoudi said.
“WFP services are expanding and demand is increasing. However, the funding is not,” he said. “With this funding level, the WFP common services will come to a standstill by the third week of July.”
Daoudi said WFP has eight COVID-19 response hubs around the world connected by a global network of air and sea transport that so far have dispatched 15,000 cubic metres (about 530,000 cubic feet) of critical items to tackle the coronavirus to 132 countries on behalf of health and humanitarian organizations.
He said, for example, that one cubic metre (about 35 cubic feet) contains “around 32,500 surgical masks, 1,650 safety goggles, 1,800 face shields and/or 30,000 examination gloves.”
Daoudi said 70,000 cubic metres (about 2.47 million cubic feet) of cargo are in the pipeline to be transported over the next six weeks on behalf of more than 30 organizations. To do that, he said, between 120 and 130 large 747 cargo planes are needed, because each can only carry 650 cubic metres (about 23,000 cubic feet).
“And this is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Moving beyond the next six weeks the demand is quite huge and we are talking about delivering to over 132 different countries across the globe, so the urgency is there, the needs are there.”
Daoudi said “projections indicate that approximately upwards of 700,000 cubic metres (almost 25 million cubic feet) of cargo will need to be delivered across the world by the end of the year.”
But he said that will be impossible unless WFP receives $820 million to continue its COVID-19 logistics service through 2020.
Daoudi welcomed “generous donations of air transport capacity” from the United Arab Emirates and the European Union as part of its air bridge, and said WFP is in discussions with NATO, the United Kingdom and other countries about offering air assets.
WFP’s two strategic hubs for COVID-19 deliveries are in Guangzhou, China and Liege, Belgium, along with six regional hubs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Accra, Ghana; Johannesburg, South Africa; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Panama, he said.
Daoudi said WFP has been providing passenger transport services for health and humanitarian workers where safe and reliable commercial options are not available.
“WFP is working to open more passenger routes in Latin America and add destinations throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East,” he said. “The moment there are commercial viable options WFP will stand down its services.”