The PIA aid flight being filled with WHO supplies flew into Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. Image Credit: PIA

Islamabad: The first cargo flight of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) delivered essential medicine and other supplies to Afghanistan on Monday as the country’s stocks dwindle. This was the first international humanitarian aid flight to reach Afghanistan since the chaotic situation that emerged after August 15 and the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Pakistan’s national flag carrier delivered medical supplies of the World Health Organization (WHO) as part of the country’s efforts to establish a “humanitarian air bridge” between Islamabad and Kabul with the help of aid agencies.

To facilitate international efforts, the PK-234 (Boeing 777) flight flew from Islamabad to Mazar-i-Sharif via Dubai (UAE) after coordinating with international agencies, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmed Khan said on Monday.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted conditional permission to international aid agencies for air operations after appeals made by foreign aid agencies that warned that medical supplies will run out within days in Afghanistan.

“PIA is providing air transport for the operation and the WHO will be arranging logistics on the ground” in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif near the Uzbekistan border.

The plane carried emergency supplies for hospitals, as well as medicines for treating chronic malnutrition in children, where 18 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The 12.5 metric tonnes of life-saving supplies consist of trauma kits and health kits enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people and provide 3500 surgical procedures and treat 6500 trauma patients, the WHO said. The supplies will be delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.

The PIA plane was loaded with the supplies early on August 30 by WHO’s logistics team at the International Humanitarian City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and flown directly to Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, thanked the government of Pakistan and PIA for their “efforts to support WHO and the people of Afghanistan.” He said that “the support of the Pakistani people has been timely and life-saving.”

Due to the current closure of commercial flights, WHO is working with Pakistan to establish an air bridge into Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Kabul airport is not an option for the next week at least due to security concerns, said WHO’s regional emergency director Rick Brennan. The situation in Kabul is expected to normalize after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces by August 31.

Western countries are still negotiating to ensure that Afghanistan’s main gateway, Kabul airport, remains open for humanitarian aid and commercial flights after the evacuation airlifts end on August 31 and they turn the airport over to the Taliban who took control of the country two weeks ago.

Last week, United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) executive director David Beasley thanked Pakistan for its support in repairing damaged planes returning from Kabul and establishing a “humanitarian air bridge between Islamabad-Kabul” and other cities of Afghanistan to meet the urgent needs of Afghans.