ROME, July 31 (Reuters) - The World Food Programme (WFP) may have to ground flights carrying aid workers to some of Africa’s poorest countries within weeks unless it receives fresh donations, the United Nations relief agency said on Friday.
The WFP, suffering a funding shortfall this year as wealthy nations struggle to cope with the financial crisis, said its air service carrying aid workers to camps in the war-torn central African country of Chad would run out of money by Aug. 15.
The U.N. Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), operated by WFP, will run out money for its services in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by the end of August, the agency said. It needs $10 million to keep these services open until the end of the year.
"This is just an example of the stresses and strains we are under this year," said Greg Barrow, a spokesman for WFP in Rome. "We are having to suspend some programmes or reduce rations. These flights are very close to being scaled down and ultimately stopped completely, unless we receive more funding."
In February, WFP was forced to close the air service in the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Niger. The service in Niger, one of the world’s poorest and least developed states, is expected to resume in August after a donation from the U.N. Common Emergency Relief Fund.
In Chad, UNHAS’ six aircraft carry an average of 4,000 humanitarian passengers a month to 10 destinations, where they provide assistance to 250,000 Darfur refugees and 180,000 internally displaced people in the country’s east.
"How will WFP reach the hungry? How will doctors reach their patients? How will people have clean water if the engineers who help to build wells can’t get there?" asked Pierre Carrasse, head of WFP’s aviation branch, in a statement.
Barrow said that if flights were suspended, WFP staff and other aid workers could travel by road but this would be slow due to the large distances involved and frequently dangerous due to rugged terrain and banditry.
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said on Wednesday the organisation had received pledges for only $3.7 billion of the $6.7 billion it required in funding for 2009. (Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Robin Pomeroy)