2023 In Review: Airlink in Asia and the Pacific
In 2023, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimated more than 360 million people would need humanitarian assistance – requiring USD $55.5 Billion. At the close of the year, this funding requirement was only 32% met. Looking forward to 2024, nearly 300 million people around the world will need humanitarian assistance and protection due to conflicts, climate emergencies, and other crises – requiring USD $46.4 Billion in funding to assist 180.5 million people across 72 countries.
While looking forward to the new year and how Airlink plans to address the growing humanitarian needs worldwide, the Asia and the Pacific Team takes a look back over the regional achievements from 2023.
All good responses start with intentional listening so that we know how to respond effectively. In 2023, Airlink learned to look for local actors and regional coordinating agencies so that we could listen to the NGOs who are first responders on what communities need on the ground. We sought out their pain points and collaborated to ensure their needs were being met. We held quarterly coordination calls to share lessons learned. We continue to learn about the complexities of this region so that we are responsible helpers.
This included offering cheaper logistics solutions than the NGOs were able to find, funding those responses to ease their burdens where possible, and, through our network of more than 200 NGOs, making introductions so they had peers to meet their needs. For instance, our NGO partners, Disaster Relief Australia and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) met at our Asia Pacific Regional Training Forum and forged a partnership. PDRF was also able to channel some aid inventory to the Bayat Foundation for winter supplies in Afghanistan. Airlink helped Disaster Relief Australia support Taskforce Kiwi in New Zealand, which faced the costliest cyclone in its history in February, only to find Taskforce Kiwi being deployed in the new year of 2024 when Australia faced cyclone Jasper which landed Queensland with an A$8 billion damage bill. These relationships are built on trust and reliability in response and are a testament to the partnership-building model Airlink has forged.
Trust was extended to Airlink by the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) after understanding our consistent aid to disasters over the past few years, including the 2021 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic and subsequent tsunami, the unprecedented back-to-back cyclones in March 2023 in Vanuatu and our COVID-19 response to the Marshall Islands in August 2023. To that end, PIANGO invited Airlink to take a seat at the table, and as Airlink representative for Asia and the Pacific, I was elected to the Steering Committee of FALE Pasifika, which helps anticipate responses in the region. I had attended the CAPA Airline Leader Summit in Brisbane in September to corral airline partners to mount a concerted response for NGOs when disaster strikes in the Pacific Islands and secure access for first responders using aviation resources. Fruitful relationships with Air Vanuatu, Air Caledonie, Air Nauru, and Solomon Airlines were initiated to add to the capacity of Fiji Airways.
Beyond the NGOs and transport partners, the Connecting Business Initiative (CBi) started by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UN OCHA), also deepened ties between NGOs, governments, and local businesses, often forgotten as victims as well as first responders. I attended two CBi events in Bangkok and Istanbul, forging an important understanding of how to coordinate when the need arises.
Three key data points are helpful in understanding why Airlink exists.
First, 73% of the cost of any aid program is spent on logistics such as freight costs, warehousing, insurance, cold chain storage, customs charges, etc. By interceding with airlines and logistics partners on behalf of the 200+ NGOs Airlink works with, we are able to save NGOs significant sums to be diverted into relief work instead. In 2023, the savings exceeded $715,000 for the 38 NGOs we helped. If you are an airline, shipper, or logistics company that wants to help, reach out today.
Secondly, more than 60% of donated items are unwanted, often secondhand clothes or items the communities affected did not ask for. This has prompted frustrated recipients such as Vanuatu to launch a campaign to be considerate in donations. Work instead with NGOs that Airlink has vetted and has experience working with to ensure the right aid arrives. Importantly, consider donations of cash to help communities get back on their feet with dignity.
Thirdly, there is a dearth of funding for humanitarian aid even as more crises and disasters are happening, most of which are happening in Asia and the Pacific due to geophysical reasons such as seismic activities, volcanic eruptions, seasonal cyclones, and, increasingly, climate change events. Specifically, less than a third of the funding needed in 2023 was raised. Increasingly, there is awareness of the cost of aid delivery. Each dollar donated in anticipatory action (e.g. prepositioning supplies ahead of a disaster) saves $6 in disaster response. We need your help raising funds to get the right aid to where it is needed. Aid is not aid unless it arrives.
Airlink is committed to a presence in Asia and the Pacific. Reach out to help us help those in need.
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
This year saw two firsts for Airlink – our first shipment of humanitarian goods to Papua New Guinea and to Myanmar. This is a momentous achievement and truly demonstrates the growth of Airlink and the capacity of our growing network to support crises in every corner of the world.
Another of the highlights of 2023 was hosting the Asia and the Pacific Regional Logistics Training Workshop in the Philippines. In early June, Airlink hosted 20 NGO partners in a two-day workshop to discuss regional issues surrounding logistics and humanitarian response. This allowed NGO partners to make connections as well as for Claire and I to learn more about common barriers to effective humanitarian programming. Additionally, we hosted three regional coordination calls bringing together our regional response partners on a quarterly basis to discuss experiences and key learnings on relevant topics for Asia and the Pacific – including Water-Based Disasters, Wildfires and Bushfires, and Centering Localization and Regionalization in Disaster Response Logistics. It is critical to provide a platform for NGOs to coordinate and learn from each other to make disaster response more effective overall for those who are affected.
2023 was my first full calendar year as the Program Manager for Asia and the Pacific with Airlink. I am grateful to be able to work with such dedicated humanitarians every day to address the biggest conflicts and crises around the globe. I look forward to continuing to engage with our partners in the region and deepen relationships for more effective responses.
Humanitarian Programs Manager for Asia and the Pacific
Asia and the Pacific Regional Logistics Training Workshop
In accordance with the Airlink Regional Response Framework, this event brought together regional players from NGOs, coordinating agencies, and airlines to enable Airlink to hear local and regional actors in the field of humanitarian aid response working in Asia and the Pacific. NGOs that have experience responding to disasters in the region also joined to share their valuable insights.
The training event provided a high level of engagement, both planned and unplanned, as our Airlink NGO partners held informal meetings to share ideas. This had the benefit of strengthening the Airlink network within the region, which features remote communities in hard-to-reach archipelagoes and raising Airlink’s credibility and profile. The event also shed light on available resources and approaches in the Philippines, one of Airlink’s priority countries for 2023.
The event yielded valuable connections and learnings, which provide some insightful calls to action outlined below: better information sharing through communication and technology platforms to overcome time differences and information gaps; sharing of network resources to avoid duplication; better contextualization of local laws and regulations, cultural context and government regulations by leaning on local partners and regional networks. Many partners also saw Airlink not just as a provider of air transport and logistics solutions but also as a coordinating agency with the ability to educate and disseminate information critical to effective response, including the key 10-point guide.
2023 By the Numbers
Transportation Savings: More than USD $715,000
Humanitarian Cargo Sent: 75 Metric Tons
Trained Responders Deployed: 168
Number of Countries Reached: 13
NGOs Supported: 38
In 2023, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA) estimated that 28.3 million people in Afghanistan would need humanitarian assistance – with the World Food Programme (WFP) estimating that nine out of 10 Afghans would not have access to enough food.
Humanitarian assistance for the population has been made increasingly difficult with bans on women working for the UN and other NGOs, as well as funding constraints – the UN’s $4.6 billion funding appeal was less than 10% supported.
Healthcare infrastructure is also a concern. According to the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society, as many as 50 children die every month due to the unavailability of cardiac surgery facilities and equipment in public hospitals.
In addition to the ongoing complex crisis, in October, Western Afghanistan was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes, urgently compounding the existing humanitarian crisis. Over 1,400 Afghans lost their lives in the deadliest tremors to strike this earthquake-prone, mountainous region, and the WFP reported that the quakes left more than 100,000 people in need of emergency assistance in this region alone.
Food security and healthcare were two of the priority humanitarian interventions needed in 2023. Airlink supported the shipments of critical nutritional meal supplements for children, medications, and durable medical supplies and equipment – including cardiac surgery equipment, contributing to the establishment of the first public cardiac institute in Afghanistan, which will assist the 12,000 children who are waiting for congenital cardiac anomalies correction surgery.
For 2024, an estimated 23.7 million people – more than half of Afghanistan’s population – will require humanitarian assistance to survive. Nearly half of all Afghans live in poverty, with 15.8 million people affected by acute food insecurity.
Responding NGO Partners: Bayat Foundation, CardioStart International, Convoy of Hope, and InterSOS.
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partners Kam Air and Qatar Airways.
After the Rohingya people fled Myanmar in 2017, approximately 950,972 Rohingya Refugees now reside in 190,694 shelters within the 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar. The refugee camp relies on humanitarian assistance to sustain its inhabitants’ basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, and health (WASH). Bangladesh is also on the front lines of climate change with heavy, unpredictable rains, extremely high heat, and threatening typhoons. Poverty is compounded by the effects of climate change, perpetuating this dangerous cycle.
Airlink supported partner deployment for a number of medical training missions to the Cox’s Bazar Refugee Camp, including training for local midwives on neonatal resuscitation with the goal of reducing newborn and maternal mortality rates. Trained medical responders also provided education and training to physicians and nurses on non-communicable diseases, care of cancer patients, palliative care, medication administration, wound care education, and infection control. Additionally, responders provided surgical intervention with consultation, training for emergent burn care, and community health education on breast cancer and breast self-exams.
Further, Airlink supported multiple shipments of medical supplies, aiding the ongoing response of NGO partners to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis and providing critical health interventions to displaced persons.
Responding NGO Partners: MedGlobal and Partners for World Health
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partners Cathay Cargo, Qatar Airways, The Emirates Airline Foundation, and American Airlines.
Typhoon Mawar was the strongest storm to impact Guam in more than 20 years as it passed just north of the island on May 24 as a Category-4 equivalent typhoon, flooding homes, downing power lines and damaging vital water supplies. Guam was declared a major disaster area on May 27, with damage assessments estimated at USD$112 million. Following the impact of the storm, Airlink supported the deployment of responders for NGO partners focused on disaster assessment and the deployment of clean water, hygiene supplies, and meals to impacted communities.
Responding NGO Partners: Team Rubicon, The Salvation Army, and Convoy of Hope
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner United Airlines.
For the Marshall Islands, lack of access to new medical equipment as well as medical training means patients are often without critically needed care. The Airlink supported the deployment of trained medical professionals for our NGO partner to conduct the distribution of and training for much-needed medical equipment to support local health systems strengthening, specifically in the remote outer islands.
Responding NGO Partner: Nito’s Wings
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner United Airlines.
Cyclone Mocha made landfall on May 14 with wind gusts exceeding 134 miles per hour, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. Mocha was one of the strongest storms ever recorded in Myanmar. All cyclone-affected areas in Myanmar were already identified as having severe humanitarian needs, and the disaster only deepened those needs for hundreds of thousands. Airlink provided airlift support for a shipment of sheltering and WASH supplies to support the critical humanitarian needs in the impacted communities.
Responding NGO Partner: International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Cyclone Gabrielle struck New Zealand from 12 to 16 February, causing damages in excess of US$8 billion. This cyclone was the costliest on record in the Southern Hemisphere and the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 1968’s Cyclone Giselle. On February 14, a national state of emergency was declared for only the third time in history, with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins stating the cyclone was “the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen this century.” The AIrlink supported the deployment of trained volunteers from NGO partners who provided debris removal, muck and gut support, and other emergency services to allow impacted communities and families to return to their homes.
Responding NGO Partners: Taskforce Kiwi, Disaster Relief Australia, Re:ACT Disaster Response, and Team Rubicon Canada.
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner Air Canada.
In August and September of 2022, Pakistan experienced unprecedented flooding – impacting 33 million people directly and leaving more than 20 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Nearly 8 million people were displaced, with basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clean water left inaccessible to millions. In 2023, to continue long-term recovery, Airlink supported the movement of hygiene kits, including water purification items and solar lights, on behalf of our NGO Partner.
Responding NGO Partner: GlobalMedic
This response was made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partners Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic.
Papua New Guinea faces high levels of healthcare insecurity, with an under-5 mortality rate of 57 per 1000 liver births and one in 13 children dying each year from mostly preventable diseases. Further, it is estimated that the maternal mortality rate is 215 per 1.000 live births, resulting in an estimated 580 deaths per year. On behalf of our NGO partner, Airlink supported the complex airlift of a shipment of critical medical supplies and durable medical equipment to a clinic in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where it can take 7-8 days to reach the nearest pharmacy. This medical clinic provides maternal and infant care, pediatric care, and gender-based violence care.
Responding NGO Partner: Project CURE
This response was made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner Cathay Cargo.
Throughout January 2023, the Philippines was inundated by heavy rains, flooding, and landslides, impacting more than 1.3 million people in the wake of Typhoon Noru, also known as Super Typhoon Karding, which made landfall in the Philippines in October 2022 as the strongest typhoon of the season. Airlink supported the airlift of recovery supplies, including first aid kits, personal water filters, and portable solar radios, to communities impacted by Typhoon Noru and continued flooding on behalf of our NGO partner. Additionally, Airlink supported the deployment of trained experts on disaster telecommunications to support the training of local responders on re-establishing critical communications networks in the wake of disasters.
Responding NGO Partners: NetHope and Children International
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partners American Airlines and United Airlines.
An aerial view shows flooding after Super Typhoon Noru struck San Miguel in Bulacan province [Adrian Portugal/Reuters]
In March 2022, the draining of the country’s foreign currency reserve caused a default on the loans, which was quickly followed by rapid inflation. Necessities, including food, fuel, and medical products, immediately skyrocketed in price and continue to be inaccessible to the majority of the population. With 80% of medicines in Sri Lanka imported and the fragility of the economic situation, the Sri Lanka Health System is experiencing a significant healthcare crisis with regard to essential medicines and medical supplies across various hospitals. In support of the continued recovery from this crisis, Airlink supported the airlift of critical medicines and medical supplies distributed by our NGO partner to rural public hospitals throughout the countries for communities most impacted by the healthcare collapse.
Responding NGO Partner: Sri Lanka Association of Oregon
This response was made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner Qatar Airways.
Following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and subsequent tsunami, over 80,000 people, roughly 75% of the nation’s population, were impacted by the disaster, which caused an estimated US$187 million in damages. In 2023, Airlink supported the movement of sanitation and cleaning supplies to support the continued recovery of the local communities. Further, Airlink supported the deployment of trained firefighters to provide training to local departments in preparedness for future responses.
Responding NGO Partners: GlobalMedic and ‘Anamatongi Polynesian Voices
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s airline partner Fiji Airways.
Beginning in mid-August, wildfires across Hawai’i caused devastating levels of destruction, tragically claiming over 90 lives. Maui bore the brunt of the fires, and the Lahaina community in western Maui, which is home to approximately 12,000 people, now stands largely in ruins, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of families. The repercussions have been profound, with more than 250 structures either damaged or utterly destroyed, transforming entire sections of Lahaina – once a historical cornerstone as the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Relentless flames have devastated cultural and religious sites that have held significance for centuries. This catastrophe also serves as a stark and pressing reminder of the imperative to safeguard indigenous communities from the repercussions of climate change. While residents have been able to return to the affected area for some time, continued concerns over toxic ash, non-potable water, and mental health remain. Airlink supported deployments for NGO partners, including trained medical personnel, sheltering volunteers, feeding volunteers, and clean-up and debris removal experts. Airlink also supported the airlift of sheltering materials, food items, and medical aid on behalf of NGO partners. Notably, Airlink coordinated the shipment of a “clinic in a can” via ocean freight. This clinic, the size of an ocean freight container, provided clinical space for healthcare workers and the community while the rebuilding of local health infrastructure occurred.
Responding NGO Partners: ADRA International, AFYA Foundation, Convoy of Hope, Heart to Heart International, Americorps, CORE, Project: Camp, Empact International, Operation BBQ Relief, ITDRC, Mobile Medics International, The Salvation Army, Off-the-Grid Missions, Adventist Community Services, Global Empowerment Mission, Footprint Project
These responses were made possible by the support of Airlink’s partners American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Maersk.
In early March, Vanuatu experienced Cyclones Judy and Kevin back to back, as well as a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. The storms impacted 80% of the nation’s population of 320,000 people, including 125,500 children. While Vanuatu recovers from wide-ranging infrastructure damages, cuts to the supply of clean water on the islands are now causing a surge in waterborne diseases. Airlink supported partner deployment to Vanuatu to provide critical coordination and response development support.
Responding NGO Partner: PIANGO