A successful gamble for the European Humanitarian Airlift

The partners of the European Humanitarian Airlift Bridge look back on their experience with the graphics below and the following article.

RLH-HAB (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – Humanitarian Air Bridge)

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the Covid-19 virus triggered the greatest concern of international humanitarian organizations. The measures taken at the global level to contain the spread of the virus, including border closures and the halt of airline operations, were going to have major consequences on ongoing humanitarian operations, and potentially create new crises (due to the restricted mobility of humanitarian personnel and the impossibility of supplying operations).

Faced with this situation, and while waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) to set up a larger air bridge, NGOs got organised.

In April, the Informal Network of Operations Directors (INOD) began to identify the immediate needs for staff movements and the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN/RLH)[1] focused on the flow of supplies to ongoing humanitarian operations. These two groups rapidly coordinated with each other and with their members to jointly seek transport solutions. The Crisis and Support Centre of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom INOD and HLN have been coordinating since the beginning of the crisis, established the link with the European Commission and its Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). On 20 April 2020, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, announces the implementation of a humanitarian air bridge, financed by the European Union.

The objective of the operation is as follows: the coordination of the European Humanitarian Air Bridge (HAB) enables a rapid response to the transport needs of passengers and equipment of European humanitarian actors, on a complementary basis with existing transport offers, during the Covid-19 crisis, in conjunction with the Member States and the European Commission. In concrete terms, it involves collecting and consolidating the passenger and equipment transport needs of European humanitarian organisations, identifying routes not covered, listing transport capacities, planning flights and ensuring overall coordination (Partners – ECHO – Member States – Broker – Airlines – Handlers).

The first flight took place on 8 May 2020, from Lyon to Bangui. It carried 73 passengers and more than 8 tons of material, supporting 23 organisations. Following this flight, the need to structure the coordination of the flights appears in a blatant manner. To meet this unprecedented challenge, a team of 10 people seconded from 5 NGOs (Solidarités International, Action Contre la Faim, the French Red Cross, HI-Atlas Logistique and the Norwegian Refugee Council) was set up.

Five months later, 42 flights to 12 different countries were coordinated by the RLH inter-NGO coordination cell. These flights carried 1,208 passengers and more than 780 tons of equipment, benefiting more than a hundred organisations.

Throughout the operation, the coordination team was particularly vigilant in serving and supporting each of these 108 organisations, especially the smaller ones.

A satisfaction survey carried out among the organisations benefiting from the flights demonstrated the relevance of such an operation, and its success, since 100% of the partners stated that they would reuse this mechanism. One partner applauds “a concrete application of the mutualised approach working for the benefit of the NGO community”, another stresses that “flights are requested according to needs, there is a focus on real emergencies in the field by the NGOs” and a last one welcomes the “creation of a collective”. There has been “a real understanding of the exceptional nature of these flights”, says one interviewee, and many partners are satisfied with the added value of some of the EU HAB operations, complementing the offer proposed by the WFP.

With the resumption of commercial air traffic at the end of the summer, the coordination cell is being readapted to the needs: the team is being reduced but a watch capacity is being maintained, as well as an operational capacity to be able to react quickly if required for punctual flights, and this until the end of 2020, thanks in particular to the support of the CDCS. Maintaining the cell has made it possible to organise three flights in response to the explosion in Beirut in August, as well as two flights to Yerevan in response to the Armenian crisis more recently.

The success of this operation demonstrated the ability of NGOs to organise themselves and show synergy in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. And, more broadly, that collaboration between NGOs is the best lever for a reactive response adapted to humanitarian issues.

What RLH has been supporting since its creation in 2014, namely that collaboration between humanitarian logistics actors and the pooling of resources makes it possible to improve operational efficiency and achieve objectives which are beyond reach on their own, is best illustrated by the creation of this humanitarian airlift, highlighting that cooperation between NGOs is more necessary than ever for humanitarian action.


[1] The Humanitarian Logistics Network was created in 2014 and has now 9 members: ACTED, Action Contre la Faim France, Croix-Rouge Française, Humanité & Inclusion, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam Intermón, Plan International, Première Urgence Internationale, Solidarités International.

The infographics in PDF foramt – EUHAB reporting – SOL

The photo album of the humanitarian airlift is here!

The press review on the humanitarian airlift:


























On Défis Humanitaires:

A humanitarian airlift to fight Coronavirus.

Interview of Marie Houel, inter-NGO coordinator for the humanitarian airlift.

Covid-19: the planes of the riposte.

Humanitarian: questioning oneself in order to progress.

Humanitarian aid workers must regularly question themselves in order to make progress. This will be the case on 17 December 2020 during the National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. During this time of confinement, the CNH will be held by video conference. The 4 themes selected are all major challenges for humanitarian action.

What are the themes of this conference, what are the stakes for humanitarian workers?

  • The impact of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures on humanitarian aid.

These are felt every day because of banking obstacles to the transfer of funds. In addition, there is a threat of “criminalisation” of humanitarians working in territories where terrorist groups operate. Finally, there is a challenge to humanitarian principles and security risks when certain donors ask for lists of aid recipients to be sent to them in order to check them against lists of suspects qualified as terrorists! Practical, rapid and controlled solutions are essential if humanitarian action is not to be paralysed in the long term. What are they?

  • The so-called “nexus” process, which aims to link and generate a logic of action and complementarity between the humanitarian and development phases in order to build peace.

This makes sense for states but not for humanitarian NGOs who are not in charge of peace or war. In times of war, peace results either from the victory of one side or from a negotiated political solution. Peace is then the result of a political process that does not involve humanitarians. Obviously, this is complex and deserves debate. And it does not, in principle, concern disaster or epidemic situations. How can the role of humanitarian actors in conflict situations be delineated while at the same time supporting basic essential services?

  • Respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian access are closely linked.

They are regularly under threat. It is an essential struggle both for the delivery of relief supplies and for the protection of civilians, the wounded and prisoners. How can this right and access be advanced and enforced?

  • The link between climate change and humanitarian aid.

How to act while protecting the environment, how to help populations adapt to the consequences of global warming and how to contain it. This is a vast question which is fairly new for humanitarian aid workers due to the constraints caused by crises. However, it is urgent to make a firm commitment to this issue. How can we proceed in the face of the scale and diversity of applications?

Finally, the Conference will be an opportunity to review the French Humanitarian Strategy 2018-2022, to review the funding instrument that is the Humanitarian Emergency Fund and to come back to the European Humanitarian Airlift of the spring in the face of the logistical consequences of the Covid-19.

Let us recall here that the CNH is prepared within the framework of the Humanitarian Coordination Group (GCH) which brings together humanitarian leaders with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and its Crisis and Support Centre every trimestre. This Conference, this Concertation Group and France’s humanitarian strategy are the result of the Boinet-Miribel Report submitted at its request in March 2009 to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner.  The first CNH took place in November 2011.

A demanding and ambitious Conference.

In addition to the issues specific to each of these 4 problems addressed in the framework of round tables, humanitarians are waiting to see the decisions of the Interministerial Council for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) chaired by the Prime Minister on 8 February 2018 confirmed. Decisions to increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.55% of GDP in 2022, according to an upward curve, as well as to endow the Humanitarian Emergency Fund (FUH) with a budget of €500M.

In addition, humanitarians propose that in the future 10% of the ODA budget should be devoted to humanitarian aid and that at least 13% of ODA should be implemented with NGOs who bring commitment, private funding, expertise, proximity and capacity to mobilise.

Finally, at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, the President of the Republic declared: “Together with French NGOs and our international partners, we are building an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity”.

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron meets humanitarian, development, climate and environmental NGOs at the Elysée Palace.

Humanitarian NGOs in France are actively contributing with their analyses and proposals to this presidential initiative, from which they expect a great deal from all humanitarian actors in the world in terms of security, access and justice, knowing that it is up to them to assume their missions and responsibilities on their own.

Défis Humanitaires will keep you informed of this National Humanitarian Conference to which we will devote our next edition at the end of November. A report and an assessment will be published in January 2021.

To inform you, Défis Humanitaire needs you.

This Conference gives me the opportunity to talk to you for once about Défis Humanitaires. More and more of you are reading and subscribing to our site and the number of readers has tripled in 3 years to reach 36,000 readers this year, in France and many other countries. 70 authors have contributed on a large number of issues, because what characterises us is the diversity of subjects and organisations presented in a completely independent way.

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In this issue you will find :

An article by Hamada AG AHMED on people’s resilience and local governance in Mali.

The presentation by Pierre Brunet of the book “Security and Development in the Sahel”.

An article by Lise Lacan and Madeleine Trentesaux presenting the international relief coordination mechanism for drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, the Global Wash Cluster.

And in the right-hand column of the site, we offer news from Afghanistan, the book on 40 years of Solidarités Internationale with podcasts, an ICRC study on the effects of war and climate change on the populations in southern Iraq, northern Mali and CAR.

Thank you very much for your donation to Défis Humanitaires, whose objective is to promote and improve humanitarian action.

Alain Boinet.