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Afghanistan - Ghor airlift ends

30-05-2002 News Release 02/22

The two aircrafts used have stopped airlifting food between Herat or Mashad to Ghor during the winter, making hundreds of rotations in all and helping to accomplish a vital task.

Two Hercules aircraft used to airlift food to Ghor province in central Afghanistan during the winter are returning to their African base. They flew back and forth between Herat or Mashad (Iran) and Ghor almost every day for five months, making hundreds of rotations in all and helping to accomplish a vital task. " The distribution of 6,400 metric tonnes of food and seeds to more than 460,000 beneficiaries would have been impossible without the airlift " said Scott Gardiner, the ICRC relief coordinator in Afghanistan.

An extensive ICRC food programme was started in Ghor in August 2001, but had to be interrupted between September and November because of the instability in the country. The programme resumed only in December, just as winter was starting.

The semi-arid region of Ghor has been affected by decades of conflict and three years of drought. Most of the population depend on farming and livestock to earn a living, but the harvests of recent years were severely reduced and many of the livestock and other assets had to be sold. Some families used up all their savings and were forced to move to camps for displaced people in other areas of Afghanistan. Those who remained relied on the ICRC for most of their food.

The region is one of the least accessible in Afghanistan. The altitude ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 metres above sea level. In December, when the food programme resumed, convoys of trucks were stranded on the road for weeks by heavy snowfall. Every spring, the roads turn to mud when the snow melts and so remain impassable until May. ICRC logistics specialists therefore decided to use large cargo planes to bring supplies to Chaghcharan, the province capital.

The two Hercules were chartered for this purpose in mid-January. Although each was capable of flying 18 tonnes of supplies from Mashad or Herat to Chaghcharan five times a day, there were still problems in mounting the airlift. " The airstrip in Herat had no facilities and no fuel " , explained ICRC logistics coordinator Jean-Marc Molliet. " The Hercules need 20,000 litres a day, which meant we had to organize huge fuel convoys from Pakistan. At the other end, in Chaghcharan, the airstrip was just sand and stones, and every morning the staff had to clean and compact it so the planes could land. "

The complex logistical operation was essential to one of the ICRC's biggest aid operations this year, which prevented many families in Ghor from leaving the province and seeking means of subsistence elsewhere. Their needs remain great, however, and two more rounds of food and/or seed distributions will have to take place before next winter.