Bad weather, flight path led to airdrop failure: UN food agency chief

OTTAWA -- Bad weather and a tricky flight path are factors that led to a failed United Nations air drop of humanitarian aid in Syria -- the international organization’s first such attempt inside the war-torn country.

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World Food Program chief Ertharin Cousin, whose agency co-ordinates logistics for the UN, took full responsibility for the botched air operation in an interview with CTV News on Thursday.

She said that delivering by air is fraught with challenges.

“One thing we’ve said about air drops from the very beginning is that air drops are a last resort when there is no other way of bringing food to other people.”

Twenty-one pallets, each containing 1 metric ton of aid, were destined for the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, besieged by Islamic State extremists. Ten of those pallets are unaccounted for, while the rest are badly damaged or did not fall in the target area. The materials could have helped roughly 200,000 trapped civilians the World Food Program has not accessed since 2014.

“What we are doing now is that we are looking at the film from the air drops of what went wrong,” Cousin said. “We have been given permission from Jordan to actually practice with the challenging meteorological situation that winter provides.”

Those test runs will determine whether the WFP can overcome the challenges to attempt another air drop, but Cousin is optimistic. “We we’ll try again… They need us to get this right and we will.”

Another challenge Cousin is facing when it comes to feeding the world’s hungry is climate change, which is why her agency is exploring forecast-based financing. “That means if meteorological data forecast a drought … we can go in with different seeds. So instead of planting maize, you plant cowpeas, which can grow with erratic rains.”

Cousin believes a greater emphasis on weather models can help target at-risk populations before climate-based disasters strike, thereby saving lives and money. It’s a method she says makes vulnerable populations “more resilient, making them less in need of assistance from the international community, giving them the ability to continue to feed their own families.

Cousin’s two-day visit to Ottawa included a meeting with International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. And even though Canada has failed to meet the foreign aid target set out by the United Nations, Cousin praised Canada.

“Canadian people are one of the most generous donors we have at WFP. And in fact Canada has ranked 3rd, and never less than 4th, in donors to WFP,” she said.



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