Deliveries start from UN’s new Belgian cargo hub

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The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has kick-started a network of global logistics hubs that will support the entire aid community and ensure the delivery of vital medical and humanitarian supplies to developing countries while commercial air transport is at a virtual standstill.

“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.

A WFP-contracted Boeing 757 cargo flight departed the newly-established Global Humanitarian Response Hub in Liège, Belgium, carrying almost 16 tonnes of medical cargo and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves 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.
WFP is setting up the logistics backbone for global COVID-19 efforts, rolling out a global hub-and-spokes system to dispatch medical and humanitarian cargo and transport health workers to the front lines of the pandemic. These 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 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 expects to transport the equivalent of 37 Boeing 747 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.

While this flight is the first from the new hub in Liège, WFP has dispatched more than 300 tonnes of humanitarian and medical cargo to 89 countries since late January. These shipments include masks, gloves and testing kits.

Aid agencies and health authorities have been struggling to get supplies to fragile settings. They are hindered by the breakdown of global supply chains, the collapse of commercial air travel, border closures, and disruptions to shipping. “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,” he added.

WFP appealed for an initial $350 million to kick-start global common logistics services, a call echoed by humanitarian partners in April.