Why helicopters matter in Nepal

The United Nations warned on Monday that it will be forced to ground its fleet of six helicopters in Nepal – which are being used for post-earthquake relief efforts – unless it receives more funding. The UN says it has received less than half the US $18 million needed to keep flying until the end of October, and the service will cease at the end of August unless it can make up the shortfall.

See: Our Nepal earthquake coverage in full

The helicopter service is critical because many of the communities devastated by the two massive earthquakes in April and May, which claimed more than 9,000 lives, are otherwise unreachable. Landslides triggered by monsoon rains have further decimated Nepal’s already-damaged and limited road network, making it even more important that airlifts of food and other supplies continue.

Here are some key facts:

• Over the past decade, Nepal’s government has been building roads with the goal of extending access to all 75 districts, but 14 districts remain unreachable by road
• Helicopters have been used to access 139 remote communities that are inaccessible by road, and at least 146,000 people depend on the airlifts
• UN helicopters in Nepal have transported around 2,000 passengers and 1,000 metric tonnes of cargo since 28 April
• The UN is using two French-designed AS350s and four large Mi-8s, Russian-designed choppers that are workhorses in humanitarian emergencies around the world
• Britain volunteered the use of three Chinooks, large military transport helicopters, but Nepal’s government refused the offer. The Chinooks were shipped as far as Delhi, India, but had to be disassembled and brought back to the UK in late May
• There was a row in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake over helicopters being prioritised to rescue international mountaineers rather than being sent to help poor Nepalis cut off in remote villages
• A US military helicopter on a relief mission in central Nepal crashed in May after a suspected fuel problem, killing six US Marines and two Nepali soldiers on board

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