Repairing airstrips to access the most vulnerable people in the Central African Republic
Since January 2016, Handicap International has repaired airstrips across the Central African Republic. Implemented in conjunction with humanitarian organisations, including the United Nations and NGOs, this initiative aims at improving the distribution of humanitarian aid to the country’s most isolated regions.
Inhabitants of Sibut greet the first aeroplane to land on the airstrip since its rehabilitation. | © Handicap International
To facilitate access to the most remote regions of the Central African Republic, Handicap International has repaired 12 landing strips since January 2016, in cooperation with humanitarian air services (UNHAS, ASF, CICR, MSF) working in the country.
This repair work is vital to enable the most vulnerable people to access humanitarian aid. The multi-faceted crisis affecting the Central African Republic since 2014 has placed 2.5 million people - more than half the population - in an extremely precarious situation, according to the United Nations. Many of these vulnerable people live in areas that are very difficult to access.
Around 230 to 250 local workers are employed on each landing strip. The works last between 3-15 days, depending on the size and state of the strip. Weeds are removed from 50,000 sq.m. of land on average and repairs are made to the beaten-earth strip.
Between January and March 2016, Handicap International offered logistical support to more than 20 humanitarian organisations including Action Against Hunger, International Medical Corps, and Solidarity International.
At the end of March 2016, Handicap International prepared the transport of 42 tonnes of humanitarian aid by 115 flights planned by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) and Aviation Sans Frontière across the Central African Republic.
“In tonnes distributed, the proportion of humanitarian aid transported by air is not huge, but due to problems on the ground, it’s an essential component of humanitarian operations in the Central African Republic. The roads are in an extremely bad state, and sometimes it takes three weeks for a lorry to get from Birao to Bangui,” explains Allan Bernard, coordinator of Handicap International’s logistics platform in the Central African Republic. “In extreme emergencies, in areas that are difficult to access, the distribution of humanitarian aid by air is the most efficient way - indeed the only way - to reach those worst affected.”
In Tiringoulou, Handicap International’s logistical work centred on repairing the town’s landing strip. In March 2016, 230 people, including 80 women, were employed to weed a 69-170 sq.m. area to bring the strip back into operation.
In the first quarter of 2016, Handicap International’s airport pre-positioning service helped UNHAS distribute 12 tonnes of humanitarian aid by air to Tiringoulou, and provided the town’s population with access to medication and essential non-food items.
Tiringoulou is a town with more than 50,000 inhabitants in the north-east of the Central African Republic, close to the border with Chad. As a result of the crisis, the border has been closed and people are no longer able to access supplies of food and non-food items. The risk of malnutrition among the local population is now higher.
The state of the town’s landing strip and poor safety standards made it extremely difficult to regularly supply the town with humanitarian aid.
Map: Airstrips rehabilitated by Handicap International